Stephen's Report

Five impact players to watch on A-Day

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

TUSCALOOSA, Ala.– As the weather forecast for Saturday begins to even itself out, Bryant-Denny Stadium will be the epicenter for party city with ESPN airing the Crimson Tide’s 11th spring game.

It’s exciting to see former players return and new recruits tour the facilities; however, the goal in mind is viewing the action on the field. Following a 35-31 loss to Clemson in the 2017 College Football Playoff title game, Alabama uses this weekend to put the masses on notice for the fall.

Head coach Nick Saban is about finishing the job, and the best way to do that is creating a positive atmosphere in the spring game for fans to take into the upcoming football season. Despite having some guys banged up, yours truly of TDAL Magazine compiled a list of five players that will command attention this weekend.

Isaiah Buggs, Defensive Line

Buggs has made a statement this spring in being a starter on the defensive line.

The junior college transfer from Mississippi Gulf Coast appears to be someone who can continue the fierce pass rusher that was special in the last two seasons. Listed at 6-foot-5 and 292 pounds, Buggs will suit up with Da’Shawn Hand, Da’Ron Payne, Quinnen Williams and O.J. Smith – representing the Tide’s first-team defensive line.

He expects to hold up firm against the team’s offensive unit of Bradley Bozeman, Lester Cotton, Ross Pierschbacher, Jonah Williams and Matt Womack. Buggs recorded 134 tackles, 18 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks during two years at Mississippi Gulf Coast, before coming to Alabama.

Najee Harris, Running Back

Harris may be the most captivating player on the field.

With injuries to Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough and B.J. Emmons, Tide fans will witness the Najee Harris show for the second (White) team offense. Prior to arriving on campus, he was a unanimous five-star recruit and the nation’s top-ranked prospect overall via Rivals, Scout and PrepStar recruiting networks. Harris’ 7,948 career rushing yards is fourth-most in California high school football history. He totaled 2,776 yards rushing and 36 touchdowns as a senior in 2016.

Alabama second team defensive line – Raekwon Davis, Johnny Dwight, Josh Frazier and Jamar King – bears the task of trying to limit a 6-foot-2 and 227-pound specimen in the backfield.

Jerry Jeudy, Wide Receiver

Not taking anything from Calvin Ridley, Robert Foster or Cam Sims, but general consensus on these three is people expect them to play well. After making defenders look foolish throughout his tenure at Deerfield Beach (Fla.) High School, Jerry Jeudy will line up at “X” for the second team offense on Saturday.

For the fourth Florida native to land at Alabama at wide receiver, fans and coaches want to see the chemistry between he and freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

At 6-1 and 184 pounds, Jeudy arrived at the Capstone in January.

He amassed 117 catches for 1,554 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns for his career, while having 76 receptions for 1,054 yards and 16 touchdown catches during his senior year in 2016.

Jalen Hurts, Quarterback

According to Nick Saban, the No. 1 goal for the Tide this offseason was to help Hurts become a better passer. Regardless of the numbers he put up last season, Hurts was not asked to survey the field and be a top-notch passer as a true freshman. Under the guidance of offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, much is expected from the native Texan through the air and its starts this week.

Being able to read progressions, display accuracy from all angles and stretch the field precisely will all be of the utmost essence for the sophomore. His athletic prowess – 954 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns – led to him earning the Southeastern Conference’s Freshman of the Year and Offensive Player of the Year honors, but fans want to see more of an consistent aerial assault.

Andy Pappanastos, Kicker

Saban may have shut down JK Scott’s opportunity to both punt and kick field goals; nevertheless, Andy Pappanastos is presented with a chance to lock up kicking duties. He made all six of his extra point tries a season ago, yet an obstacle stands in Pappanastos’ way of getting the job. In Thursday’s presser, Saban provided details on the matter regarding the specialist.

“We have a kicker coming in that we really like,” Saban said. “He’ll be here in the fall.”

Three-star prospect Joseph Bulovas is whom Saban was referring to.

The Louisiana native was the nation’s top-ranked kicking prospects via Chris Sailer for the 2017 recruiting cycle, and chose Alabama over Georgia Tech and Mississippi State. Bulovas has a video on his Twitter account of him nailing a 70-yard attempt. A strong A-Day performance lands Pappanastos the job, but he must display accuracy and quality leg drive on kicks.

Stephen M. Smith is a managing editor and senior writer for Touchdown Alabama Magazine.  You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @Smsmith_TDALMag.

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