Spring practice opens Tuesday for the University of Alabama football team, and it’s an intriguing 15 practices for myriad reasons. Here are five things to watch this spring for Nick Saban and his squad.
How much has Jalen Hurts progressed?
There is a thought in coaching that a quarterback grows more from his freshman to sophomore season than at any other point in his growth. Due to the structure of spring practice, it will be difficult to gauge exactly how much Hurts has matured as a passer. Things to examine are his timing and his comfortability in the pocket.
Hurts has plenty of targets from which to choose, but he did lose his favorite receiver in ArDarius Stewart. Also gone is big target O.J. Howard.
Developing a downfield passing game with consistency would be beneficial to deep threat Calvin Ridley. Hurts’ running ability is never in question. If he can complete the intermediate pass with consistency it will help open up the Crimson Tide offense.
Who are the best offensive linemen?
Former offensive linemen will tell you that it’s not about starting the five best offensive linemen. Rather it’s identifying the five guys that fit, communicate and work well together. Those ideals aren’t always in alignment.
Jonah Williams had a stellar freshman season and he’s a lock to start at either right or left tackle. Ross Pierschbacher is a two-year starter at left guard, and Bradley Bozeman was solid at center.
So who is the right guard? That question along with the other tackle spot opposite Williams will start to be answered beginning Tuesday, although it will most likely play out through fall camp.
Can the defensive line maintain its standard?
The answer is, ‘That’s the goal!’ However, achieving that given the talent lost at the position will be harder to attain.
Jonathan Allen and Dalvin Tomlinson were monsters at the front end of Alabama’s defense and those players aren’t easy replace or plug and play with just anyone. There are certainly talented linemen on the come up, but none outside of Da’Ron Payne are heavily experienced.
Payne is the guy now, but he has guys to work with like Da’Shawn Hand. Raekwon Davis and Quinnen Williams are young players who have potential too.
Depth will be the issue this season. How many guys can realistically be up to speed physically and mentally to start the season? That will answer the question.
How will the offense look?
That’s the $25,000 question, and, to be honest, that won’t be answered this spring. Spring practice by its very nature is vanilla. Why give opposing SEC teams and Florida State a head start at scouting you?
But it’s a legitimate question following the departure of Lane Kiffin and one-game wonder Steve Sarkisian.
Brian Daboll is a pro guy, and Saban said he’ll spend some time learning the spread concepts that Alabama incorporates. The offense isn’t going to completely abandon the spread because that’s what Hurts does well.
Still, there has to be a desire to be able to call power runs and control the clock some given that Alabama’s defense was on the field 99 plays against Clemson.
The answer probably lies somewhere in between pro-style and spread. In fact, that’s what Alabama’s offense has been for a few years now.
How many running backs can play?
There are only so many carries to split, and the talent level at running back is quite good.
Bo Scarbrough is the guy if he’s healthy. Damien Harris is also a complete back. Then there is Josh Jacobs who brings a burst to the running game not seen from the other guys.
Don’t forget about B.J. Emmons who was injured and missed significant time last season. Oh, then there are the freshmen running back Najee Harris and Brian Robinson.
Simply put, there aren’t enough carries for all of them. Burton Burns is the best running backs coach in the country and he has a lot of talent at his disposal.
Expect Scarbrough to continue his role as lead back, but beyond that, there’s too much talent to know at this point who separates from the pack.