Eleven practices are in the books for the University of Alabama football program. Nick Saban and his coaching staff know more about their team than they did in the summer. But there are still many determinations to be made.
As Saban said following Saturday’s first scrimmage, the staff must soon decide which players will have a role on this year’s team.
“I think one of the big goals of the scrimmage today is that at some point in time when this camp is over, and we have another week of camp and another scrimmage… We have to say ‘These are the guys that we’re going to invest time to try to develop and help our team,’” Saban said.
So after 11 practices, including one scrimmage, what is known so far about the 2017 team? Glad you asked.
Minkah, Minkah, Minkah
If it’s possible, Minkah Fitzpatrick, the gifted junior defensive back, is even better and more valuable than originally thought. No one underestimated Fitzpatrick, per se, it’s simply that his role has expanded such in the secondary that it can be argued he’s the most important member of the team.
Fitzpatrick was named to practically every preseason defensive award watch list. He’s widely projected as a first-round draft pick if he decides to pursue the NFL after this season.
The New Jersey native has started the previous two years. He’s played cornerback and Star and last season moved to safety when Eddie Jackson went down with a broken leg. So far during this camp, Fitzpatrick has practiced at corner, safety, Star and Money. In essence, Fitzpatrick can play all six defensive back positions in Alabama’s nickel defense.
That versatility makes Fitzpatrick invaluable.
Field goal kicking has been a sore spot for Crimson Tide fans for several years. It likely dates back to the Game of the Century against LSU in 2011 when a disastrous display of field goal kicking nearly derailed what went on to be a national championship season.
Jeremy Shelly’s 2012 perfect season was a bit of a reprieve, but the scars remain, heightened by the Kick Six loss to Auburn in the Iron Bowl in 2013.
It’s in that context and prism through which this fall camp’s field goal kicking struggles are viewed.
Following Saturday’s scrimmage, Saban said kickers “missed a couple” and “had a couple blocked.” Now, Saban was also quick to point out, on multiple occasions this camp, that it’s not all the kickers’ fault. He’s cited timing and blocking, basically execution, as reason they’ve struggled in that area.
With more practices and two more scrimmages to come, there is time to work through the execution issues that’s plagued the unit. It’s something that Saban will watch closely.
Raiding of Louisiana
Alabama has done well recruiting in Louisiana during the Saban era. But Saban took his Pelican State recruiting efforts to another level in the class of 2017. Call it the Great Raid of Louisiana.
Time will tell just how good the Louisiana natives in the 2017 class will turn out to be, but the guys certainly look the part and have earned positive reviews.
Linebacker Chris Allen doesn’t look like a freshman. Wide receiver Devonta Smith is earning the respect of his teammates. Defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs will be counted on this season. Linebacker Dylan Moses also doesn’t look like a freshman and is learning quickly. Phidarian Mathis is a young defensive lineman that show promise. Joseph Bulovas is competing for a starting job at kicker.
Buggs and Smith could earn roles this year while Allen and Moses are extremely talented linebackers that seem to have tons of potential.
The great raid of Louisiana will be felt far past 2017.
Evans next great LB?
Rashaan Evans was forced into a starting position at middle linebacker when Shaun Dion Hamilton was lost for the season in the SEC Championship Game.
Hamilton is back this season, and Evans is still there. That experience gained in the College Football Playoff is paying dividends for Evans this season. All reviews of his play so far this season have been stellar.
“Rashaan has certainly done a really good job for us,” Saban said. “He kind of played defensive end, outside linebacker. That’s kind of what we recruited him as. He’s a really good pass rusher. We converted him to inside backer and he’s made fantastic progress at that. Really shown a lot of leadership on the field. Has really good knowledge and experience now relative to what he’s supposed to do, how he’s supposed to do it making calls. I think there’s a lot of guys that look to his leadership to be important in the development of our defense. He’s certainly done a good job of that to this point.”
Evans quick-twitch athleticism should give Alabama another sideline to sideline middle linebacker this season.