Notes From Alabama’s First Spring 2016 Scrimmage

Alabama’s football team scrimmaged this past Saturday and there were several Tide booster clubs who were able to attend.  As usual, the Lighthouse spies were out in droves, cobbling together as much information as humanly possible for you all to consume.  Yes, you are welcome!  I like to think this little segment is our contribution to society – a sort of bread line for those of you who are starving for some Alabama football.

Fear not my friends!  The Lighthouse is here to offer up one last bountiful feast before we all go into a forced football hibernation until August.  So, grab yourself a fork and a spoon and let’s dig in….

Alabama on Offense

On what was a very windy Saturday afternoon, all eyes were on the quarterback situation once again.  You know, recently it seems the Crimson Tide can’t get thru a spring without some type of quarterback controversy.  Since AJ McCarron graduated in 2013, the Tide has seen spirited battles at the QB position.  First it was Blake Sims vs Jake Coker.  Then it was Jake Coker versus David Cornwell and a host of others.  This year, it’s….?????

Cooper Bateman admittedly boasts the most experience at the position and Saban himself said Bateman is currently the best at running the offense.  Bateman started off the scrimmage by leading a touchdown drive and then he followed that up by driving the Bama offense to a field goal.  Bateman never did anything flashy but he rarely made any horrific mistakes.  His worst throw was on a seam route where he badly missed a wide open receiver.  The ball floated into the waiting arms of Tide safety Hootie Jones but he dropped it while he was seemingly figuring out which end zone dance he would use.  Bateman did throw a beautiful ball to Calvin Ridley on the first drive…

Most practice observers are saying that David Cornwell had an OK day and that he performed well enough to continue to be mentioned for the starting gig.  Postgame comments from Saban indicated that, indeed, Cornwell is the best passer and has the strongest arm on the team.  Unfortunately, our spies (who concentrated their focus on the offensive side of the field) reported back that nearly every throw Cornwell made “wrong shouldered” his wide receivers.  This led to many throws behind his intended target that were either dropped, picked or he slowed his receiver down so much that he couldn’t make a play after the catch.  Overall, our crack team of “Spies Like Us” were unimpressed.

That leads us to Lighthouse favorite, Blake Barnett.  As you all know, Barnett won the Elite 11 competition two years ago and we here at the Hizzie put a tremendous amount of stock in that competition.  The leadership that Barnett exhibited during the Elite 11 was impressive but his throws were even better.  Quick, decisive.  Strong.  He looked exceptional and he won the Elite 11 competition going away.   However, on Saturday he wasn’t typically decisive and he spent much of the day under duress.  While he arguably made the two of the three best throws on the day – one 25 yard strike on a second read that revealed a wide open receiver down the middle and a two-minute drill beauty down the left sidelines for a long TD – he also made the three worst throws of the day.

Barnett’s first pick was thrown while he was under pressure waiting for a slow screen to develop.  Instead of taking the sack or throwing the ball away, Barnett decided to have some fun with what was essentially a jump ball.  Minkah Fitzpatrick came down with it and 55 yards later he was in the end zone with the first pick six of Barnett.  Yes, that was just the first Barnett pick six.  The second pick six came on Barnett’s next throw as he tried to fire a quick out in the slot.  A quick three step drop and a whoosh resulted in the ball being thrown right into Rueben Foster’s hands and he scored easily on the play.  Honestly, it was a great read and reaction by Foster but the ball never should have been thrown.  The last interception was perhaps the worst one as Barnett rolled right and flailed a 40 yard duck into double coverage.  Not. Good.  Blake Barnett still can stun you with his elusiveness as he had a 40 yard scamper that set up his two-minute drill touchdown throw but, with the mistakes, Barnett would have to be third on the depth chart at this time.  Sigh.

Lastly, our eyes in the skies were surprised at the amount of time Jalen Hurts got to spend at the QB position.  Hurts is a run first QB who will eventually have to learn how to turn his very good arm into a very accurate arm.  Unless there are injuries of epic proportions, Hurts will redshirt this year.

Running Backs

We’ll shorten these segments up now that you kids have all the information that you really and truly wanted.  However, you should know that the best player on the field Saturday was Bo Scarborough.  Mercy me, that kid can run.  Over.  Around.  Thru.  Bo Scarborough can flat-out tote the rock.  On his 95 yard TD run, he started to his left but cut back sharply to his right as he noticed the backside of the defense had caved in way too much.  He stiff armed the end and then exploded thru the arms of Kendall Sheffield.  As he stepped out of Sheffield’s corpse, Bo’s turbo kicked in and he outraced everyone the final 70 yards to the end zone.  Wow.  I mean, this was a WOW kind of play.

Damien Harris looked much, much more confident at RB and could see a decent amount of time as the third down back.  Scarborough has had some WR experience in his career but he dropped a couple of easy ones on Saturday.  Harris looks like he’s ready to emerge as a very solid #2 RB for the Tide (but Bo is the unquestioned #1).

Saban mentioned in the post-practice Q&A that the freshman RB from North Carolina would have to provide some relief at RB.  BJ Emmons – you have been warned!

Offensive Line

The only thing really noticeable along the OL was the fact that everyone seemingly played everywhere across the line.  Lester Cotton will start at either RT or LG – he’s easily one of the best five linemen.  Pierschbacher is the unquestioned center but he did have a few low snaps that he’ll need to improve on.  He held up pretty well otherwise and should do some real damage against a four man front.  I think when a nose tackle lines up inches from his grill that he’s still a bit shaky with that.  Alphonse Taylor has fallen to the second team and I don’t think he’ll get up.  Jonah Williams appears to be in line to start as a true freshman – this is a rare feat that is typically reserved for the likes of Andre Smith and Cam Robinson.  He was used at every position except center and seemed to fare well with every rep.  IM-Pressive!

Receivers

I think the lead story here is that OJ Howard committed three egregious drops.  The first, and the worst, of them was on a ball that he inexplicably jumped for.  First, he jumped prematurely.  Second, he didn’t need to jump as the ball hit him around the waist area.  Third, it was a floater that he just flat-out dropped.  Not good.

Ardarius Stewart and Calvin Ridley both looked good when given the opportunity.  Robert Foster was a blur as he was the only one on the field who could gain any ground on Scarborough’s 95 yard run.  With Foster wearing a black jersey, it was easy to see him passing up everyone on his way to Bo.  He fast!

Returners

Ridley and Stewart lined up as the primary kick returners at the beginning of practice.  Later, Xavian Marks lined up back there, as well.  Ridley appeared to be the primary punt returner but Daylon Charlot and Xavian Marks also lined up deep on occasion.

Alabama on Defense

The spies who love us spent the vast majority of their time watching the Bama offense so there isn’t a whole lot to report on the defense.  The front four, six and seven largely controlled the line of scrimmage and more or less dominated the red zone work at the end of practice.  With that being said, there were a few particular defensive foes that stood out from the rest…

Linebacker

Reuben Foster’s break on his pick six was phenomenal.  When he caught the ball, he was already accelerating to his top speed.  Also, Rashaan Evans played alongside Foster much of the time and never seemed lost at the position.  On one play, Evans read the pulling guard and he shot the gap for a tackle for loss.  Athleticism will not be an issue for Evans.

You’ve Got Hand

Da’shawn Hand is massive.  I mean massive.  Christian Miller looks to be a good size, as well.  Miller stood out in a kind of “who the heck is #47” kind of way.

Corner

Alabama has some really, really good starting corners with Humphrey and Fitzpatrick manning the position.  On Saturday, Anthony Averett appeared to be a kid who is vying for some playing time in the Tide secondary.  He’s exceptionally fast and was always in position to make plays on the ball.  Averett is making a move in the secondary.

Size Matters

Alabama’s front three of Josh Frazier (315 lbs), Da’ron Payne (315 lbs) and Dalvin Tomlinson (294) looked mighty, mighty impressive.  The three of them seemed to be the immovable force along the Tide’s front line.

Final Thoughts

With the flip-flopping and massive experimentation along the offensive line, it’s no wonder the defense seemed to own the day.  Sprinkle in four young QBs who are each trying to find their own way and you can see why Saturday was just a necessarily awkward first step towards having a viable offense for 2016.  To the good, playmakers like Bo Scarborough, Calvin Ridley and Ardarius Stewart reminded us that Lane Kiffin needn’t reinvent the Air Coryell Chargers’ offense for Alabama to be successful.  Kiffin has accomplished much, much more with lesser talented QBs than are on the current roster so the expectation is that the Tide brain trust will cobble together something pretty outstanding.  They key to the 2016 offense, and any offense in our humble opinion, will be to solidify the front five along the offensive line.  Talent will not be an issue with guys like Lester Cotton and Jonah Williams so the trick will be to find the right spots for these kids to succeed.  Bradley Bozeman and Alphonse Taylor will provide valuable depth and experience, as well.

Defensively, Alabama will simply reload their arsenal with a new group of 4 & 5 star studs.  The secondary may actually be the strength of the 2016 defense while the front seven continues to be ridiculously deep and insanely athletic.  Perhaps the greatest recruiting wins for the Tide coaching staff in the offseason were keeping defensive guys like Ryan Anderson, Tim Williams, Jonathan Allen, Reuben Foster and Eddie Jackson on the 2016 roster.

Should be another fun season on the defensive side of the ball.  Now, about that QB position….

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