Over the last several years, Alabama football has been something of a work of art – college football’s version of the Sistine Chapel, if you will. Well, if we were to categorize Saturday’s scrimmage as artwork, then this version of the Crimson Tide would be more like a Leroy Neiman painting. There were a few brilliant strokes but, by and large, it was a bit sloppy and erratic, leaving the fans wondering if this was anything close to becoming a finished product.
There were multiple penalties, including several on the first string offensive line. There were a few fumbled snaps from center along with some plays where 10 guys were doing one thing while the QB was doing something completely different (to be fair, this only seemed to happen with Luke Del Rio at the helm). One field goal was blocked and an extra point was just flat-out missed (Griffin). In a word, it was sloppy.
To the good, offensively there were several playmakers who did show their tremendous potential. Here are the highlights:
The offense was hamstrung throughout the day and in the regular 11-on-11 non-situational scrimmaging they could only muster three field goal attempts. The QBs were contently harassed by the Bama defense and there were very few running lanes opened by the big boys up front. All of the backs had flashes of greatness but several of the receivers were working thru a case of the drops. OJ Howard was outstanding and even seemed to hang in there pretty well as a blocker. Here’s a quick position by position review…
Quarterbacks: AJ had a decent afternoon when he had time but he was under a tremendous amount of pressure throughout the day. He was chewing on his OL at one point as a stunt or “game” left Anthony Steen standing still while Adrian Hubbard was in McCarron’s grill. Aside from that, there wasn’t really anything to comment on.
Blake Sims took all of the 2nd team reps while Jake Del Rio took the majority of the third string reps. Alec Morris and Cooper Bateman each led one single solitary drive. This was extremely disappointing as I was excited to see how Morris had progressed.
Since we said the Alabama team looked like a Neiman painting, then to me the kid holding the brush was Blake Sims. Some passes sailed high. Some were thrown behind his receivers. A couple of throws were ill-advised. His throws were wild and all over the place at times but at other times when he rolled out, he looked the part of a QB. While his play was erratic, at the end of the day, like a Neiman painting, you could mostly tell what the painting was supposed to be (a quarterback). But, I’m hoping I won’t have to be hanging this up on my wall any time soon.
It was perplexing to see Sims out there taking 100% of the second string snaps but two former players I talked to seemed to think that Sims might be out there to give the 1st string defense (it was 1s against 2s) a look at a running QB. Last week it was said that Morris looked outstanding and these former players still believed/hoped, as I do, that Alec Morris would get the nod as the true #2 if the time came for someone else to get behind center. But if Morris only gets to lead one drive per scrimmage, I don’t see how that’s possible and Saban’s comments after the scrimmage seemed to indicate that Sims had won the #2 job.
Running Backs: Talent, talent and more talent abounds at the RB position. While the holes were few and far between, Yeldon, Drake, Tenpenny and Tyren Jones all were deftly able to bounce interior runs to the outside, picking up big chunks of yardage outside the tackles. The freshmen RBs were extremely impressive. Derrick Henry was exactly the beast we thought he would be and he looks fully recovered from his leg injury. Twice Henry was able to out race Dillon Lee to the corner of the end zone, showing speed and power to finish his runs – impressive for such a big dude.
You know we love Kenyon “Shake N” Drake and he had a couple of nice runs on the day. But, the Drake bugaboo is holding on to the football and, once again, Drake put the pigskin on the ground, this time inside his own 5 yard line. The ball appeared to simply be slapped out of his hands so ball security continues to plague the Drake. Henry could be making a move here.
The “surprise” would have been the number of reps Tenpenny got with the first and second teams. He is a north/south runner who stays behind his pads pretty well and runs with power and passion. He’s clearly emerged as a back who will play this season. Also, Tyren Jones looked to be exceptional as his vision, speed and surprising power left tacklers grasping for air. To be fair, he was going against the third string defense but, still, Saban admitted that his performance merited a longer look at him for this season.
Lastly, Dee Hart had a tremendous practice. He looked like his old self, showing lateral quickness and shifty moves. Saban raved about Dee Hart after practice saying if his entire team had the heart of Hart then he could guarantee Alabama would win every single game this season. Strong praise for Dee…
Wide Receivers: The WRs had an up and down day and nearly every single one of them (except White and Norwood) seemed to be victimized by a drop or two. Chris Black and Raheem Falkins each had more than 2 drops and that was very disappointing to see. Cooper sat out the scrimmage as his foot is still on the mend. With the QBs being harassed all day, the WRs honestly didn’t get much of an opportunity to show out.
Tight Ends and H Backs: LaMichael Fanning was back working with the defense while Brandon Greene continued to work with the TEs so it would appear the Fanning experiment is over. Harrison Jones seemed to take the bulk of the two TE looks as the second short yardage TE but at 240 lbs that’s a substantial downgrade from 270 lb Michael Williams (who Saban called the unsung hero of the 2012 team).
While Bama clearly won’t have the size at the TE position, between Jalston Fowler and OJ Howard, they’ll have plenty of athleticism. Fowler still appeared to still be trying to get his sea legs back at the position but Howard was extremely impressive. I haven’t looked at the stats on the day but he was clearly the leading receiver on the day, showing exceptional hands and an easy ability to get open.
Offensive Line: I do the bulk of my work on reviewing the offensive line by watching replay after replay after replay – looking at all five positions along the line to see what each individual did on every single play (yes, it’s tedious and yes, I’m a geek). So, without the benefit of replay it’s extremely difficult for me to give an accurate assessment on each guy. I can tell you that Sims and McCarron were often seen running for their lives as Hubbard, Dickson, Stinson and others were constantly flushing them from the pocket. Clearly there were numerous breakdowns along the OL (Saban did state two of the sacks were caused by a TE’s inability to block – oh brother where art thou Michael Williams?).
At any rate, there are some things I can definitively say about some individuals along the OL. Personally, I thought Arie K struggled a bit Saturday. While he’s certainly got the build for a RT, I’m not sure he’s got the quickness and balance to play the position as he struggled several times on the day. I can tell you with certainty that Leon Brown has miles to go before he can be considered as a viable option for playing time – he was beaten early and often by several different Bama defenders.
Brandon Hill played LG and LT and looked really good for a such a giant man (380 lbs or so – MASSIVE). In speaking with a couple of former OL, Brandon Hill caught their eye, as well (presumably b/c of his play as any human being that size is going to catch your eye!). Grant Hill played exclusively at the T position and I never actually saw him get beat. Now, I didn’t zero in on him every play but I did watch him quite a bit since we’ve all been hearing such good things about him. I thought he played very well – especially for a true freshman.
Shepherd played a bit more LG than Kellen Williams and I think he’s the leader at that position. I didn’t pay much attention to Cyrus as I think we all know what we are getting out of him but I can say there was pressure coming from his side, as well. Anthony Steen had a rough day from what I could tell – whiffing on Hubbard and committing two false start penalties.
With the obvious talent at QB, RB, WR and the TE/HB positions, the only item of concern is the offensive line. All those exciting skill players won’t get a chance to do their thing if Bama can’t shore up their offensive line. And, let’s be honest here, it needs to be shored up. I don’t think the staff is done mixing and matching among the second stringers but I do think they’ve likely settled on Shepherd and Arie K starting at LG and RT respectively. Shepherd will be fine but at this point I’m a little concerned about Arie being isolated out there at tackle. Grant Hill will continue to be groomed to take over if need be and I would not be surprised if at some point Hill begins taking some game reps with the first string if things don’t get better soon. To these eyes, he looks like he could possibly handle it.
The only other concern to me is the erratic play of Blake Sims. He is the anti-game manager if ever there was one. Each time he lets fly with his arm, you kind of hold your breath to see what will happen. There were times when he rifled frozen ropes to his receivers, hitting them in stride and making you consider changing your mind about his abilities. But, then he sailed passes over his receivers’ heads and consistently threw behind them, resulting in woeful interceptions. And, Sims seems to be good for at least one “WHAT ARE YOU DOING” exclamation per game – yesterday he threw an odd little short pass that DB Cyrus Jones could have called a fair catch for. Weird. I still like Morris better but for now Sims does appear to be #2.