Recapping the Scrimmages Before the Big A Day Game
By: Larry Burton
With two full scrimmages in the books before Alabama’s big A Day Game this Saturday, who is looking good? Who is not meeting expectations? What should you be looking for and what questions really need to be answered?
These are things that make A Day so fun and to start recapping the good so far, let’s start with the running backs, because as was expected, they seem to be the brightest spot.
After two scrimmages, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Kenyan Drake is the leading rusher in yards per carry average. What may surprising is that it’s not clear if he’ll even be the number two running back.
Drake has been in out of the dog house at Tuscaloosa and if you understand Saban, it’s not the back with the highest per yard carry total that gets to start, it’s the one who protects the ball the best, protects the quarterback best by knowing how to pick up defensive blitzers and being in position to be dumped off to in an emergency. That means always having your eye on the quarterback and the situation at hand.
If Drake can stay out of the dog house and do all these other things, then he has a shot, but it’s going to be hard to replace T.J. Yeldon, who some may give some Heisman talk and is the team leader in total rushing yards and has dropped the ball less, by average runs from scrimmage, than Drake.
But Derrick Henry has has been showing extreme promise in practice and that leaves many wondering how hot the battle for two will be with him in the mix this season. However, he only had carries in one of the scrimmages and didn’t set the world on fire with his yard per carry average.
Still, Saban has less worry about his running back situation than anywhere else he’ll at with this team.
Running Back Figures So Far
Kenyan Drake – (with two scrimmage totals) – 79 yard on 15 carries for 5.26 yards per carry
Tyren Jones – (with two scrimage totals) 83 yards on 20 carries for 4.5 yards per carry
Derrick Henry – (first scrimmage only) – 40 yards on 12 rushes for 3.33 yards per carry
T. J. Yeldon – (first scrimmage only) – 20 yards on 7 carries for 2.85 yards per carry
Altee Tenpenny – (with two scrimmage totals) – 79 yards on 28 carries for 2.82 yards per carry
The Quarterback Position
It’s been stated that Sims is showing more leadership and comfort at quarterback and that a real battle may ensue once Coker gets on campus and begins working out with the team. While I’m sure they’ll give Sims every opportunity to win the job, I still stand by the belief that the battle was over the day Coker decided to come to Tuscaloosa and unless he simply falls apart in practice, the job is his. Still, no team can make a run at a championship without a solid backup and Sims has proven that if he doesn’t win the job, he can certainly do that.
It was however, interesting to note that in a statement made by recently transferred quarterback Luke Del Rio that he had been told by the staff at Alabama that if AJ had gotten hurt, he, not Sims would have played. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I do know that Del Rio said that to the press.
So far in practice none of the quarterbacks on campus have looked bad and that alone is a great thing for any team. Given the talent of the receiving corps and the great running backs, it isn’t going to be hard for ANY quarterback the Tide puts up to put points on the board. We were not given data for interceptions for the following stat report though.
Alec Morris – 13 for 19 – 147 yards – 1 TD – 11.31 yards per completion – QB Completion % – 68.4 – 1 TD every 13 completions avg.
Blake Sims – 40 for 62 – 455 yards – 5 TD’s – 11.375 yards per completion – QB Completion % – 64.5 – 1 TD every 12.4 completions avg.
Cooper Bateman – 30 for 56 – 262 yards – 2 TD’s – 8.7 yards per completion – QB Completion % – 53.6 – 1 TD every 28 completions avg.
While the staff says Sims is really looking great, the stats through the first two scrimmages don’t show that, but then they see the practices every day. Still, these stats do show that even if Coker is the starter, that the Tide has two very capable number two’s and that Bateman is still a work in progress.
Had Coker not been in the mix this season, I would have picked Morris to win out a competition between he and Sims. At 6’3” and near 240 pounds, Morris is more the prototypical quarterback that Saban likes, he’s almost an AJ McCarron clone. At 6’0” and 208 pounds, Sims may not live through a season as a starter in the SEC. At quarterback those three inches are crucial and the added weight and muscle help with the knocks a quarterback in the SEC is sure to get.
By the way, in case you didn’t know, Jacob Coker is 6’5” and about 235 at last count.
The Brightest Spot – Receiving –
The staff can’t gush enough over the spring that Amari Cooper is having and the potential for big plays he brings. Many thought last year Cooper suffered a slight “Sophomore Slump” with his output and didn’t quite live up to the lofty expectations many had for him. If the staff is correct about his performance this year, this could be the year that gets him back to the top of the elite receivers in college football list and garners him some Heisman hype.
The problem in playing Alabama this season will be the absolute inability to double cover Cooper for fear on leaving one of the other great receivers on this Tide team in a one on one match up. Cooper may be the creme of the Tide crop, but Christion Jones, DeAndrew White, (who’s still nursing a tender toe), Chris Black and a host of young guns will make covering this bunch a nightmare. And before you think that’s overkill, tight end O.J. Howard is showing signs of becoming on the best tight ends in the SEC. This will indeed a fun bunch to watch.
Amari Cooper – in two scrimmages – 19 receptions for 287 yards – 15.1 yards per catch avg and 3 TD’s or one every 6 touches
Christion Jones – in two scrimmages -6 receptions for 39 yards – 6.5 yards per catch avg and 1 TD or one every 6 touches
Scrimmage 1 only:
Cam Sims- 2 receptions for 48 yards – 24 yards per catch avg.
Altee Tenpenny – (running back) 3 receptions for 23 yards – 7.66 yards per catch avg.
Raheem Falkins – 2 receptions for 21 yards – 11.5 yards per catch avg.
Scrimmage 2 only:
Chris Black – 6 receptions for 89 yards – 14.83 yards per catch avg.
ArDarius Stewart – 2 receptions for 66 yards – 1 TD – 33 yards per catch avg. 1 TD for every 2 touches
Kenyan Drake – (running back) 2 receptions for 55 yards – 1 TD – 22.5 yards per catch avg. – 1 TD for every 2 touches
O.J. Howard – (tight end) – 3 receptions for 38 yards – 12.66 yards per catch avg.
Robert Foster – 4 receptions for 34 yards – 1 TD – 8.5 yards per catch avg. – 1 TD for every 4 touches
Malcolm Faciane – 4 receptions for 29 yards – 7.25 yard per catch avg.
Parker Barrineau – 2 receptions for 27 yards – 13.5 yards per catch avg.
Jalston Fowler – (H Back) 1 rec., 21 yards – 21 yard per catch avg.
Offensive Line –
While there were no stats on sacks allowed by whom on the offensive line, the staff has been pleased with the progress of this group, both in playing as a cohesive unit and in their communication with one another. Different combinations have been used and none of them have looked that bad. Depth in the line is not the concern it once was. In two scrimmages, only two sacks were allowed overall.
Defensive Stats –
Saban was concerned with the overall tackling and play of the defensive front after the first scrimmage, but seems pleased with recent progress. It is now clear that these are Trey DePriest’s men to command and not only is DePriest commanding them well, but leading well by example too. Despite the good play of the first unit, talent and size wise, this could be the deepest and most closely graded first three teams of linebackers and linemen the Alabama team has fielded in many years.
Trey DePriest – Over two scrimmages – 14 tackles – 1 tackle for loss – 1 forced fumble
Jarrick Williams – Over two scrimmages – 8 tackles – 1 tackle for loss – 2 passes broken up
First scrimmage only:
Denzel Devall – 5 tackles – 2 tackles for loss – 1 sack
Reggie Ragland – 5 tackles – 2 sacks, 1 pass broken up
Landon Collins – (defensive safety) – 4 tackles – 1 tackle for loss – 1 FG block
Second scrimmage only:
Jarran Reed – 5 tackles – 1 tackle for loss – 1 pass broken up
A’Shawn Robinson – 4 tackles, 1 tackle for loss
Xzavier Dickson – 3 tackles – 2 tackles for loss – 1 sack
What To Look Forward To In The A Day Game
Offense, offense and more offense! With Sims commanding one team and Morris the other, both will have a bevy of able receivers and running backs and both will light up the scoreboard.
It’s not that the defense isn’t and won’t be good during the season, but at this point in the season, the defensive backfield is still not ready for the weapons that the Alabama offense can bring to bear against them.
What to Watch For
Alabama was spoiled last year by great punting, what will that be like this year? Also watch for the new place kicking specialists to show what they can do. Alabama may be better at that position than punting, but only time will tell.
Also during the season, Saban usually runs an offense that is close to 50% runs to 50% passing. Will Kiffin’s presence change that this season? The spring game could be an early indication of things to come.
Lastly, watch the offensive left tackle position closely. Talent on the defense right now greatly overwhelms the experience at that spot. If the left tackle on offense, whoever mans it, can hold against this bevy of defensive speed and muscle, what a bright spot that would be for the offense down the road.
Lastly, look for interceptions and fumbles. Players hoping to make the starting lineup come fall will be hard pressed to do so with those kinds of mistakes on their resumes this Saturday. A sure fire consideration for first team could slide down drastically with some dumb mistakes.
Larry is an award winning writer whose work has appeared in almost every college football venue. Now he primarily writes for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LBSportswriter