The 2017 A-Day game was nothing like the A-Day’s I’ve been to under Saban. Last year for instance was a 7-3 snoozer in which the defense totally dominated. This game was a competitive match with plenty of offense on both sides. If there was one caveat it was that Alabama did not blitz the quarterbacks into submission from the opening bell like they did last year. Alabama did turn up the heat in the second half and it showed but they very much let their secondaries take the full brunt of the passing attack in the first half and the results were somewhat disturbing. Alabama also made some adjustments defensively in the second half that you normally don’t see until the regular season, clearly the familiarity with defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s defense is having some carryover.
Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll as per usual did not show much in the way of strategy but clearly this is a return to a pro style offense. Gone are the maddening bubble screens that frustrated fans for several seasons. We all understood the purpose of the bubble screens but one had to wonder about how many offensive series were wasted with this strategy and how much it actually helped against the better teams. This year expect Alabama to attack the entire field. Also it was noted by the commenting crew that like the New England Patriots if they find a play that works they are going to hit you with it again and again until you adjust to it.
So lets get to it,
Starting Quarterback Jalen Hurts is still the QB. He may not be the best passer of the bunch but he’s the best guy to lead the team right now. He did make a notable improvement in the long ball accuracy hitting several open receivers in stride. His intermediate throws continued to be very inconsistent but Hurts was faced against the #1 D so there is a difference between himself and what the other quarterbacks faced. I watched the replay and his pick in the endzone wasn’t as bad as it looked. The tight end was open for 6 and the ball passed right between his hands. He should have caught it. Hurts production did fall off the second half as the defense dialed up the pressure but he continued to move the team and did lead them back from a deficit and eventually put them in scoring position to win it. Most importantly Hurts still has the mobility, in fact in my opinion he is faster than he was last year. Basically in a perfect world if pass protection was always perfect Hurts might not be our best option, but in the real world he most definitely is. Plus we know Hurts won’t fold when things go bad, he’s proven that.
Second stringer Tua Tagovailoa is Clearly the #2 quarterback and is being trained as the holder for kicks. Expect to see a few fake field goals this upcoming season with such a dynamic play maker at that spot. Of all the time I’ve watched Alabama football I’m not sure if I’ve seen a guy who’s arm is quite like this guys. He’s simply a wizard with the ball. He doesn’t even have to step into a throw to get it where he wants it. He can throw when seemingly out of position. If he’s protected he can put the ball in virtually any spot he wants. His balls are lethally accurate through out the range from shorter to mid range to longer passes. He also seems to see the field better than the other quarterbacks spotting receivers that others might miss. God help the rest of the SEC if this guy keeps getting better and gets his shot with this much talent around him. He isn’t much of a threat to run the ball and cannot handle heavy pressure yet like Hurts has faced before. Tua will need to grow and mature this season and hopefully we will get him plenty of playing time in blowouts. Next season could be interesting if he does learn how to handle the speed of college ball.
Mac Jones is clearly the third teamer and if things go as planned he will red shirt. Jones is the most NFL ish type of passer. His passing technique is the standard overhead throw you see in the NFL. He has an extremely tight and fast throwing motion that will server him well down the road. He looks an awful lot like a young AJ McCarron but only time will tell if he develops into a college quarterback. He looked in over his head at first but settled down and lead a drive for points in the second half. It was nice to see that development.
Alabama debut two more running backs, #22 Najee Harris and #24 Brian Robinson. Both are sizable backs with speed. Both are said to have had great springs but it seemed to me that Najee Harris is clearly ahead. Harris may have to clean up some aspects of his game, he missed a few passes and will have to learn how to block but once he gets some of that down he should quickly become a part of the rotation. Alabama’s starters Bo Scarborough and Damien Harris both have a history of injuries so though they will certainly carry the load against Florida State look for Bama to get one or both of the youngsters in action fairly early in the season.
One player who may actually start against Florida State is wide receiver Jerry Jeudy. The 6’2″ freshman receiver simply dominated the game. If the ball was contested between him and a DB, Jeudy came down with it. Just to put this in perspective, Cooper and Ridley were barely noticeable in their A-Day debuts. Jeudy was the MVP. He played second team on this day probably because he’s not up on down field blocking yet but it’s hard to see him not winning out early next season.
Local product TJ Simmons from Clay-Chalkville had some really good plays including a really good TD catch in traffic. He isn’t a deep threat but reminds me alot of former Tider Kevin Norwood, a good physical possession receiver who you will look for on 3rd down.
The offensive line did reasonably well. The right tackle job is still open however. Sophomore Matt Womack is the leader right now but he got beat badly by some speed rushers Saturday. Alabama may continue to consider putting Cotton at tackle if Womack doesn’t get better. The experimentation will certainly continue through fall but it seems clear they knew who 4 of the starters will be.
The secondary had a tough day but it was in no small part because Saban left them on an island alone. He wanted to see how they would handle it. He was also trying to develop Trevon Diggs as a corner. I believe Diggs is the best long term answer at corner but he’s very raw and Alabama’s starting receivers took advantage of him Saturday. The backup DB’s were eaten alive by Jeudy but seriously, they won’t be the last to be made to look foolish by this guy. I did notice one of the true freshman Kyriq McDonald from Madison, AL made some really good plays including a pick.
I couldn’t see too much on the interior defensive line. As I’ve already stated they did not allow much for running lanes. They did ramp up the rush in the second half. One Alabama starter DaShawn Hand did not play, we don’t know why.
At linebacker Alabama seems to have a plethora of athletic freaks to throw out there. The athletic pick six by Terrell Hall was one of the darnedest plays I’ve ever seen on a football field. There were a number of plays where the outside linebackers simply beat the tackles to end the play almost instantly.
Place Kicking was an utter disaster. Alabama has a freshman arriving this fall who will have to be it. The other kickers are so far incapable of hitting a field goal beyond the extra point range. JK Scott is still the punter. We have him for one more year before he takes it to the NFL.
My final impressions were that Alabama could be a more balanced team this year with a good bit more offense but not nearly as dominant a defense. Expect several quarterbacks to toast our secondary for 3 to 4 hundred yards. Hopefully we can make that mostly between the 20’s as the defense did a good job Saturday in the red zone. Winning the Florida State game will be a challenge but Alabama has the advantage of them not knowing what our offense will look like. They need to score several times in the first half or Alabama could be in trouble down the stretch. This defense may not be ready to shut down anyone right out of the gate.