In Between the Lines of Alabama’s First Scrimmage
By: Larry Burton
With so many of the running backs nicked up and Alabama wanting to develop their passing game, it was understood before the scrimmage ever started by those in the press that this was going to be a pass heavy scrimmage. So let’s read between the lines of what was seen and what was heard.
This practice allowed Saban to do so some work and try rotating some players in the defensive secondary and see how that would work. Mainly, we saw Trevon Diggs working with the first team at cornerback. Saban has always used the spring to try and experiment with people and positions and this scrimmage was no different.
Let’s face it, Saban’s not really worried about the offensive line, even though he wants to see their pass protection get better. And he’s sure not worried about the defensive line or linebackers with the amount of talent there. So it was all about tweaking with the passing game for the most part, on offense and defense.
Most everyone who was watching were relieved to see Hurts looking better than he did in the second half of the Clemson game, but clearly better was not great. Though Saban wouldn’t allow stats, eyes that could and did see the goings on saw Hurts deliver some good throws and throw for some scores, but he delivered, as Saban said in his press conference, just over 50% of his passes.
A lot of Hurts throws required adjustments on the route and acrobatic catches by the receivers while Tua Tagovailoa was throwing most of his passes to guys with in stride catches and putting the ball where it was most easily caught including one long TD throw. But this was only the first scrimmage and Saban has made it clear that Hurts is the number one guy and there is no QB controversy here. Still for those with eyes and reasoning, it was clear to see that while there may be a clear number one, that he he is going to be pushed and pushed hard as even Mac Jones seemed to make throws and catches seem effortless.
On defense Saban seems conflicted over what to do with Minkah Fitzpatrick. He knows he’s best suited to be a shut down cornerback and that this is where is where he could shine the most on an individual basis, but he also knows the team may need him more at safety, where he can use his high IQ and leadership to be the signal caller and leader of that group. He also knows that depth could be a big issue at corner with an injury or two and that is something that has plagued him in the defensive backfield more than one season. So if Diggs winds up staying with the cornerback position or not, it’s an insurance policy at the worst. Plus you look at the offensive receiving corp, so flush with talent, it’s easy to see that Diggs could have more of an impact for the team at defensive back than at receiver.
Speaking of receivers, it was good to see Robert Foster finally looking like the million dollar man many thought he would always be. With Ridley on one side and Foster on the other, opposing teams are going to hard pressed to double cover Ridley, it will spread the field and will no doubt open up opportunities for the running game. What makes things even more interesting is that Alabama has a freshman, Jerry Jeudy, who if not for the outstanding talent already on the field, could have a breakout “Calvin Ridley type” freshman breakout season. You could just see that he is the next big thing to come along for the Crimson Tide receiving guys that will burst into the NFL. Also T.J. Simmons made a statement with his seven catches that he’s going to push for playing time too. So while the big news this season may be Ridley and Foster at that position, Jeudy and Simmons seem to be ready to be next tandem to deal with next season.
Another something to read between the lines speaking of running backs. With Scarbrough hurt every season since he’s been at Alabama, with Harris and Jacobs both dinged up, even though they’ll all be healthy by fall, it was good to see folks who might not have gotten so many carries get a serious look and from what we saw, Najee Harris and Brian Robinson both are capable backs just making the point that this running back corp has the deepest well of talent in America. Remember when both Scarbrough and Harris were dinged up and the Tide had to turn to Josh Jacobs two games last season and the true freshman responded with outstanding performances including a SEC Freshman of the Week nod? In one game he rushed for a hundred yards, caught 44 yards worth of passes. It looks like Bama has some other young guns who could do that if they had to.
So while the passing game and defensive backfield began and ended the day as the biggest concern for the Tide, reading between the lines it’s easy to see that there’s nothing to panic over anywhere and that this could be a team poised for destiny. Of course, only time will tell, but the pieces are certainly all in place. Lastly, a big shout out to Stephen Smith who tirelessly works to provide this magazine with in depth coverage that’s rarely seen by a man just out of college. Thanks Stephen for being our eyes on the ground.
Larry has been published in almost every media outlet for college sports and now primarily writes here for Touchdown Alabama. Follow Larry on Twitter for inside thoughts and game time comments at https://twitter.com/LBSportswriter