Five things to watch for in Saturday’s scrimmage
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Alabama eyes its matchup against Wisconsin at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Sept. 5, but who will suit up under center in its season opener? Saturday hopes to make things clear.
Five quarterbacks will take to Bryant-Denny Stadium this weekend, and for head coach Nick Saban, he wants this contest to end with someone taking ownership of this year’s team.
Quarterback is the hot topic; however, there are other area that Alabama needs to improve in. Yours truly of Touchdown Alabama Magazine has the top five things to watch for in Saturday’s scrimmage.
1. Production from true freshman running back Damien Harris
Summary: Coach Saban, his staff and the players are well aware of what Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake can do. Saturday will provide Damien Harris another opportunity to secure the third spot in Alabama’s rotation of running backs. Saban said Harris “did some good things” in the team’s first scrimmage and is starting to learn how to be a college football player.
2. Keep your eyes on true freshman receiver Calvin Ridley
Summary: Redshirt junior wide receiver Chris Black is back at full-speed. Sophomores Robert Foster (knee) and ArDarius Stewart have led both lines through drills in fall practice, yet it was true freshman Calvin Ridley that took receivers through drills in the last two days.
He has a lot of playmaking capabilities and pushing Foster for a starting spot with his work ethic. The 6-foot, 188-pound Ridley can either play in the slot or a vertical target.
3. Bradley Bozeman vs. Alphonse Taylor: Battle for right guard
Summary: Redshirt freshman Ross Pierschbacher outplayed junior Alphonse Taylor for left guard back in March. The table now turns to Bradley Bozeman in defending a starting spot at right guard. Bozeman saw action in nine games last season, including two starts.
Taylor enters his third season on the offensive line and can play at either left or right guard.
4. Alabama’s cornerbacks: Tony Brown. Marlon Humphrey, Bradley Sylve and Minkah Fitzpatrick
Summary: Senior cornerback Cyrus Jones is a proven commodity. He recorded 46 tackles, 13 pass breakups and three interceptions in 14 games last season. The question is who will start opposite of him? Former five-stars Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey both enrolled at Alabama in 2014. Humphrey was redshirted, while Brown totaled 10 tackles in 13 games.
Coach Saban said Brown and Humphrey are better equipped for this season, but now a third -party has eased into the conversation, true freshman cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick has impressed Saban and company with his size, abilities and mental preparation. He’s been featured in Alabama’s nickel and dime packages during practice.
As for Bradley Sylve, his senior leadership will grant him field time in certain situations, but he must show out Saturday. He’s considered to be the fastest player on the team, so let’s see if he can parlay that into playing the ball well in the air. He’s gotten reps on the second-team defense.
5. Alabama’s quarterback competition: Will it be Jake Coker?
Summary: This could be one of the more intense scrimmages for Alabama under Saban where locating a starting quarterback is concerned. Senior Jake Coker has been in practice for the last two days, after sustaining a minor foot injury in the team’s first scrimmage.
He continues to split first-team reps with junior quarterback Alec Morris. In Wednesday’s press conference, Saban said Coker’s injury is “day-to-day,” but he looks for the senior to take command this weekend.
Morris is the most knowledgeable signal-caller on the roster, entering his fourth season.
He is thoroughly immersed in the playbook and has a high football IQ, but does he have elite arm talent to get the job done? Saturday will provide all answers.
Special teams and athleticism are two things that redshirt sophomore Cooper Bateman excel in, yet does he have a “win right now” mentality? The former four-star recruit was one of the top quarterback prospects in 2013. Can he do enough to wow Saban and Kiffin?
Redshirt freshman David Cornwell and true freshman Blake Barnett represent Alabama’s future. Both guys were highly-touted prospects coming out of high school, Barnett in particular, was a five-star quarterback. Barnett has outplayed Cornwell in practice up to this point, and he is the lone quarterback that Coker truly fears.
Alabama’s quarterback competition in 2011 featured AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims.
Sims was a four-star prospect from Chesapeake, Va., and McCarron was a four-star recruit from Mobile, Ala. The duel went deep into fall camp and resulted in having both guys play a quarter each against Kent State. McCarron’s solid performance against Penn State the following week, won him the job. He completed 19 of 31 pass attempts for 163 yards and a touchdown.
Jake Coker’ battle with Blake Sims went deep into fall practice last season.
Both guys struggled in the first scrimmage, but Sims’ confidence and chemistry with the team took over in the second one. Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin provided some uptempo feedback, helping Sims play faster. Blake won the job and never looked back.
McCarron and Sims both had a toughness, confidence and swagger about themselves in their individual quarterback competitions. Both guys weren’t going to be denied an opportunity to lead their teams. It was a competition nonetheless, but one could sense that Saban knew these two had what it took to navigate a team. He expects the same results this season.
Stephen M. Smith is a senior analyst and columnist for Touchdown Alabama Magazine and SB Nation. You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @ESPN_Future.