Stephen's Report

Five players to watch for on A-Day

Alabama LB Reuben Foster: Cedric Mason- Touchdown Alabama Magazine

Some of Nick Saban’s famous quotes include “grab the bull by the horns” and “win the team.”

Both describe his stand on the quarterback position, while instilling a winning mindset to each player at Alabama. A third statement that comes to mind is “hitting the reset button.”

Every year is a new team, a new challenge and a new opportunity to deliver a message of trust, consistency and a balanced work ethic. The Crimson Tide earned a national championship last season, but Saturday will begin a new era as the returning pieces look to show fans that the possibility of a 17th national title can happen. Alabama anticipates a crowd of at least 80,000 in attendance.

Former Crimson Tide standouts Mark Ingram, T.J. Yeldon and Julio Jones became stars after putting on impressive performances in the spring game. The next wave of talent is scheduled to suit up at 2:00 p.m. (CT) inside Bryant-Denny Stadium. Yours truly of Touchdown Alabama Magazine gives you an inside look at five players to watch for on A-Day.

5. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Sophomore- Cornerback

He was expected to be good, yet Fitzpatrick was better than advertised in 2015.

The New Jersey native earned the starting job at Star in Alabama’s nickel defense, despite not being an early enrollee.

A former five-star recruit, Fitzpatrick recorded 45 tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks, 11 pass breakups (team-high), two interceptions, a blocked punt and three defensive touchdowns in 14 games. He came full circle against Texas A&M, becoming the first Alabama defender to return two interceptions for touchdowns in the same game.

With Cyrus Jones departing to the National Football League, Fitzpatrick will slide to the other corner spot. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound sophomore gets chance to add physicality to his repertoire to along with his abilities to track the ball and make tackles in space.

4. Reuben Foster, Senior- Inside linebacker

The big hits, whether they come on special teams or not, are what people expect from Foster.

He now steps into a different as the leader of Alabama defense, with Reggie Ragland, A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed all gone. He kept his health under control in 2015, posting 73 tackles, eight tackles for loss, a sack, nine pass breakups and three quarterback hurries in 15 games.

He’s been dominant throughout spring practice, guiding inside linebackers through position drills. Foster accounted for 16 tackles, a tackle for loss, a forced fumble and an interception in two scrimmages. Coach Saban and multiple players refer to him as the “alpha dog” and on Saturday, Tide fans will see the 6-foot-1, 240-pound linebacker go to work.

3. Robert Foster, RS Junior- Wide receiver

Wide receivers Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart made their names known a year ago, but an old flame is set reclaim the spotlight. Foster started to emerge last spring and it carried over into fall practice. His hands, speed and route running abilities came into form, providing a dangerous blend with his body control. The redshirt junior caught 10 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown; however, his season was cut short due to a torn rotator cuff (shoulder) against Ole Miss.

Foster responded this spring by catching everything thrown to him in practice. He was exceptional in the team’s testing period, recording a time of 4.34 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

The Pennsylvania native was tied for the best 40-time on the team, while leading all receivers. Saban has stated multiple times that Foster has been playing with “more confidence” since returning from the injury. Evidence of this proved accurate in the Tide’s second scrimmage, when he caught four passes for 106 yards and two touchdowns. Foster was one of the nation’s most explosive targets in the 2013 recruiting class from Central Valley High School (Monaca, Pa.).

2. Cooper Bateman, RS Junior- Quarterback

He is one of two quarterbacks that Saban has been pleased with in spring ball, yet will Bateman have a good showing on Saturday? Of the four signal callers, Saban singles out him as one who “tends to move the team the best.” The 6-foot-3, 224-pound redshirt junior saw time in all 15 games, including getting the nod to start against Mississippi last season.

He completed 37 of 52 passes 291 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. A capacity crowd on A-Day is nothing new for Bateman, as he enters his fourth season at Alabama.

His best performance came in the 2014 exhibition match-up, when he completed 11 of 24 passes for 156 yards and a score.

Bateman has the fastest 40-time of the quarterbacks in spring testing, clocking in at 4.59 seconds.

This statistic brings more of a reason why he was experimented a receiver during one point in his career.

He was one of the nation’s top quarterbacks and an Elite 11 participant in the 2013 recruiting cycle. An opportunity to grab even more confidence heading into fall camp starts this weekend.

1. Bo Scarbrough, Sophomore- Running back

He’s been christened as the next great back in a strong lineage.

Scarbrough, a native of Tuscaloosa, will have a shot to show the home crowd a taste of what could be on the horizon in the fall. He had just 104 yards rushing to his name in 2015, but surgeries from high schools injuries and an NCAA academic mishap were behind those results. Fully healthy, the 6-foot-2, 230-pound sophomore is ready to take on college football.

He’s had a good spring and one that saw him rush for 243 yards with four touchdowns on 21 carries in two scrimmages.

Saban said Scarbrough “tends to play faster and is very effective, when he knows what he is supposed to do.”

On Saturday, his job will be to secure a featured role at tailback. His counterpart, Damien Harris, will do all he can to stay in his hip pocket.

Stephen M. Smith is a senior analyst and columnist for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @ESPN_Future.

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