Before I talk about A-Day I want to give some recognition to one of my favorite players, Bradley Bozeman. Bozeman was a three star recruit out of tiny Roanoak Alabama in 2013. Originally accepted as a greyshirt Alabama ended up having a slot open in the fall of 2013 and he came in with the rest of his class. One of only three offensive lineman signed that day Bozeman redshirted in 13 and was quickly forgotten but he surprised many in 2014 when he came off the bench when someone got injured. The following season he competed for a starting job but did not win. The season after that he finally won the starting center job and held it for two seasons helping them get to two national championship games winning one. Bozemean, the consummate underdog was immortalized Saturday as a permanent team captain with his hands and feet in the cement at Denny Chimes. Bozeman will roll his dice in the pros. Most analysis claim he’s not athletic enough, but I’ve found betting against the big kid fro Roanoak to be a bad proposition.
Bozeman is now done at Alabama and his former team mates had a rough day Saturday. This isn’t particularly unusual for spring ball, the defense is always ahead of the offense this time of year but there may be a little more to it this year. Since I’ve been following Alabama I don’t recall us ever having a really outstanding defensive line coach. Probably the best actual DL coach I can remember is the infamous former head coach Mike Dubose who was the DL coach for Gene Stallings. Fast forward a generation and even under nick Saban and he’s had some good DL coaches but they were more recruiting experts than experts in training big men to penetrate.
That all may be a changing when Craig Kuligowski was hired. Craig who goes by the nickname “Coach Cook” on twitter was the long time defensive line coach at Missouri where he REGULARLY took 3 star recruits and turned them into 1st round draft picks. Alabama lost some big time talent on the defensive line in the last two years but the addition of Coach Cool may negate the talent loss with better play from the players we have here now. It’s not like we lack talent though, in fact Raekwon Davis might be one of the more gifted players we have had during Saban’s tenure. The 6′ 7″ 308 lb nightmare of a player has had numerous mentions in my blog posts before, not because he’s been productive since he’s been there but because every now and then he showed otherworldly ability. Everyone wondered what he would be like if he ever learned to control his behemoth body against offensive lineman and if Saturday was an indicator it appears he may be doing just that. He made a mockery of what was a mostly veteran offensive line. Davis was not the only defensive lineman than had a good day. Isaiah Buggs came to Alabama from jr college and played well but not being in division I football from his freshman year he had a great deal of catching up to do. He appears to have turned the corner as well. The other starter Quinnen Williams was a defensive end that they bulked up to play some inside. LaBryan Ray also had a good day. Ray played a big roll as a freshman before breaking his foot down the stretch. These guys did a great job Saturday and I believe next season may be a special one on the defensive line.
It’s worth noting that the offensive line was in a state of flux. Left Tackle Jonah Williams is entrenched at left tackle and Ross Pierschbacher has moved to Center to replace Bozeman. Lester Cotton has been in and out of the staring lineup for two seasons but up until he was injured in the playoffs he had more or less entrenched himself at right guard. Cotton is now trying to move to left Guard where he’s still trying to fight off competition from other players. It remains to be seen if he will be able to do that. On the right side many people have written off last years starter Matt Womack, a massive redneck from Mississippi but they may have forgotten that for part of the 2017 season the underdog three star recruit from Senatobia was the most consistent lineman we had. He’s also big, not normal big, I mean like COUNTRY big. It’s likely that rising Sophmore Alex Leatherwood who was the hero of the national championship game when he came in cold and controlled Georgia’s pass rush for the most part will be taking Womacks right tackle job but I would not be surprised to see Womack slide down to right guard. The end result of this would be a very powerful run blocking right side which has been a staple of some of Saban’s better running teams.
If Alabama can iron out the kinks in the offensive line they have a really capable stable of running backs. Probably the scariest of them is rising sophomore Najee Harris. Harris has a rare combination of speed, athleticism and power reminiscent of former Sooner and NFL star Adrian Peterson. He’s only being kept from the starting roll by Damien Harris who does not look like he should be a top running back but no matter what the situation Harris seems to always be getting the most yards per attempt. That was again the case Saturday as Harris got 5.2 yards per carry against the 1’s when the best anyone else could do was 2.9 (Najee). Against Georgia Harris took the bulk of the carries but they turned to Najee in the 4th quarter hoping a fresh powerful back would be too much for tired Georgia defenders and they were exactly right. Alabama may employ a similar tactic this year if both stay healthy. After these two Alabama has two more diverse backs in Brian Robinson and Joshua Jacobs. Robinson is improving by the day and Jacobs was considered a find a year ago but spent the entire 2017 season and spring injured. These two will fight it out in the fall to see who takes the reps that are left over. The loser will just have to be ready if someone gets hurt.
The receivers didn’t have much to show Saturday but for the second spring in a row redshirt freshman Chadarius Townsend showed some spark. He will not start but I look for this guy to do some interesting things coming off the bench next season. One of the best plays Saturday he took a pass in the flats, pancaked the corner trying to tackle him and outran everyone to the end zone for a 65 yard score. Unfortunately the starters didn’t get many looks from Jalen Hurts and the backups quarterback Mac Jones didn’t have much time to go deep.
Alabama suffered through Armageddon in the linebacking corps in 2017 and somehow survived. The end result today is a large number of backers who have real quality game experience. Dylan Moses, Mack Wilson, Terrell Lewis, Chris Allen and Joshua McMillon all played quality snaps last season if not starting outright. The result is a very deep pool of linebackers, perhaps not at middle linebacker but certainly on the outside. The main newcomer here is Markail Benton from Phoenix City who redshirted last year and is running 2nd string at middle linebacker.
I could not tell much about the defensive backs because as I mentioned, Jalen Hurts did not challenge them. The backups were mostly walkons. It’s likely the real 2’s are arriving this summer. The starting 5 are probably good players but Alabama is not going to be able to withstand much in the way of injuries in the defensive backfield next season. The learning curve is also going to be steep early in the season.
Now to the elephant in the room. This was a perfect opportunity to Jalen Hurts to try to regain his starting roll as Quarterback. Tua’s injury opened the door and Hurts ran headlong into the door frame. Nick Saban will never criticize a player publicly but there is nobody, and I mean absolutely nobody who is candy coating the play of Jalen Hurts at this point. He looks exactly like he did from mid season last year. He is not reading the play quick enough, he is not seeing the open receiver in time and he’s bailing from the pocket after the first read fails. Even the passes that he gets there are often not placed in a good position. He even struggled completing simple dump off passes to the running backs. He clearly needs to switch positions but I’m betting some other coach will convince him he can play quarterback and he will transfer. Where I’m also betting they will end up using him as a runner or part time zone read quarterback.
If that happens Mac Jones will become the #2 quarterback. Saturday we got our first extensive look at him. He is a more natural passer than Hurts and has stats were much better though he was facing a fairly depleted 2nd string defense full of walkons. Statistics aside he still spots the receiver and delivers it better than Hurts. The ball placement is better and he can at least hit a running back open in the flats. If he has to play he would be carefully managed but he would likely improve quickly with each opportunity. Alabama tried repeatedly and failed to land a Quarterback in the 2018 class but drew a blank so what we see is what we have. After Jones are walkons. If we get down to that we are pretty much done in 2018. Alabama currently has two four star QB’s signed for the 2019 class. They may also be looking for a senior transfer candidate for the upcoming season.
Alabama does not have a class full of five star players coming in this summer like they are used to getting. Alabama’s lack of depth on defensive side was evident by the 24 point beating the 2nd string offense put on them. The smaller than normal 2018 signing class is mostly on the defensive side and will add critical depth to the front 7 and secondary. Only two early entrants stood out at A-Day. One was the punter Skyler DeLong who was consistent if unspectacular. The other was Saivion Smith, a former LSU player who transferred out and spend a year in junior college. He has won one of the starting corner spots. The rest took their lumps but will be better for it this fall.
Probably the best news of the day was the kicking by redshirt freshman Joseph Bulovas was good from 33,49,26,35 & 48 yards and missed a 48 and 43 yarder. He’s got a ways to go but he’s already doing better than Alabama has had the last two seasons where kicking was an absolute disaster.