Review of Alabama Crimson Tide's First Scrimmage

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As always, "Fall" is a relative term in Alabama. Perhaps as mythical as a college football national championship. Okay, before we dive into this, here are the RELEASED statistics from the 1st fall scrimmage:

Greg McElroy – 26 for 33, 360 yards, 6 TD, 0 INT
A.J. McCarron – 21 for 26, 241 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INT
Phillip Sims – 5 for 10, 97 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT

Mark Ingram – 9 rush, 28 yards, 1 TD
Eddie Lacy – 8 rush, 24 yards, 2 TD
Trent Richardson – 7 rush, 19 yards, 1TD
Corey Grant – 4 rush, 13 yards

Julio Jones – 7 rec., 99 yards, 2 TD
Marquis Maze – 6 rec., 51, yards, 1 TD
Earl Alexander – 5 rec., 87 yards, 2 TD
Trent Richardson – 4 rec., 66 yards
Kenny Bell – 4 rec., 39 yards
Brandon Gibson – 4 rec., 29 yards
Eddie Lacy – 4 rec., 26 yards
Mark Ingram – 3 rec., 75 yards, 1 TD
Preston Dial – 3 rec., 60 yards, 2 TD
DeAndrew White – 2 rec., 87 yards, 1 TD

Mark Barron – 5 tackles, 1 PBU
B.J. Scott – 5 tackles, 1 INT, 1 PBU
Nick Perry – 5 tackles
Courtney Upshaw – 4 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 PBU
Nico Johnson – 4 tackles
Phelon Jones – 4 tackles, 2 PBU
Jarrick Williams – 4 tackles
Jalston Fowler – 4 tackles
Chris Jordan- 4 tackles, 1 sack
Dont’a Hightower – 3 tackles
Will Lowery – 3 tackles
C.J. Mosley – 3 tackles, 1 INT

Passing Touchdowns (9):
Greg McElroy – 6 (24 yards, 38 yards, 26 yards, 18 yards, 70 yards, 2 yards)
A.J. McCarron – 2 (41 yards, 16 yards)
Phillip Sims – (78 yards)

Rushing Touchdowns (4):
Eddie Lacy – 2 (8 yards, 1 yard)
Mark Ingram – 1 (1 yard)
Trent Richardson – 1 (3 yards)

Now for some disclaimers. There are a few things you have to keep in mind when you're trying to get your head around scrimmage stats. First, and most importantly, there is no context for any of this stuff beyond what meager details coaches or players might let slip afterwards. There's no way of knowing if Julio Jones was lighting up Dre Kirkpatrick or a 4th string walk-on corner. Secondly, these are only the stats that the coaching staff saw fit to release. For instance, you may notice that Marcell Dareus does not show up in the defensive stats. Do you really think the big man got totally shut out on Saturday? Of course, he didn't. I hear DJ Fluker has come a long way since spring, but he hasn't come that far. In fact, no defensive linemen turned up in the stats.

Lastly, you have to understand that Saban likes to use the first scrimmage to send messages and put suspect units on notice. Think back to last year's fall camp when the big question mark heading into the season was the offensive line. Saban threw them into the fire during the first scrimmage, and we saw horrific offensive stats and defensive stat lines featuring about half a dozen sacks and even more tackles for losses. And, on cue, everyone freaked out about how awful the offensive line was going to be. Well, they turned out alright, don't you think? Getting taken to the woodshed is just part of the process at Alabama.

So now let's focus in on what we (think) we've learned from this past scrimmage:

1. The secondary got taken to the woodshed. No two ways about it: they got abused early and often. Obviously, there's still a great deal of work that needs to be done there, but you also have to understand that drubbing in the context of what I just mentioned. Based on the released stats, we see 72 documented pass attempts vs. just 28 rushes. You also have to assume there were at least a few more pass attempts that resulted in sacks by the Conspicuously Absent Defensive Linemen. So, basically, somewhere in the neighborhood of 75% of the offensive snaps were pass plays, obviously WAY skewed from Bama's usual run/pass ratio. The coaching staff clearly singled out the secondary and put them to the test. And though they went down in flames, again, that's part of the process. I'll be much more concerned if they don't show improvement during the second scrimmage. They say you make your biggest improvement between your first and second games, and I think the same holds true for scrimmages. Last year, the offensive line rebounded from their initial tail whipping and put up a much more respectable showing in scrimmage #2, including allowing Greg McElroy to throw for 295 yards.

So I'm going to hold off on all this talk about the sky falling for the time being.

2. I think the worst news for the secondary coming out of this scrimmage wasn't the stats; it was the injury report. All offseason, my mantra for the defensive backs has been STAY HEALTHY STAY HEALTHY STAY HEALTHY. Yet as soon as Bama goes into its first full-contact work of the fall, three DBs left the field with injuries. Safety Robert Lester (the presumptive starter opposite Mark Barron) suffered a concussion and is likely going to be held out of drills until cleared, valuable time lost for a player who wasn't exactly overwhelming coaches with his performance to begin with. If he's out for an extended period of time, it only creaks open the door a little more for walk-on Will Lowery to earn the starting job. Lowery continues to impress with knowledge of the scheme and is always in the right place at the right time, but he's definitely a step or two slow, athletically.

In addition, true freshman Demarcus Milliner (tweaked his ankle) and incoming JUCO transfer DeQuan Menzie (tweaked his hamstring) left the scrimmage early. Those two are currently competing with each other for the crucial "Star" position (slot DB in nickel coverage). At this point, there's no word on how long either will be out, if at all. Bama really can't afford to lose either for any amount of time.

To add insult to those injuries, freshman athlete Blake Sims left the scrimmage with a foot sprain. While he was reportedly working at running back at the time of the injury and was seemingly more likely to contribute on offense this year, he would have been a good, fresh body to help with practice numbers at DB. And, who knows, he might have caught on there. As it stands now, his status is up in the air as well.

In my opinion, all that is much worse news than all the passing yards.

3. On the bright side, the QBs look on point. I don't care how rough the secondary might have been, if you're hitting 26 out of 33 (McElroy) and 21 out of 26 (McCarron), you're doing a lot of good things in your own right. The 2 interceptions is why McCarron never had a chance to unseat GMAC, though. A big arm can be as much of a curse as it is a gift. Hopefully, he'll get the gunslinger out of his system by 2011. If nothing else, NCAA Fooball 11 predicts great things for him. My offline dynasty's CPU gave him the Heisman two years in a row! (That would be 2012 and 2013, if you want to go ahead and mark that on a calendar somewhere.)

4. Things That Surprised Me:

--Earl Alexander's numbers (5 catches for 87 yards and 2 TDs). Early was a hyped recruit out of high school but has never quite been able to put it together at Bama. He has mostly contributed as a big wide-blocker for the running game the past two years. But if it's really started to "click" for him, he could make things interesting in the redzone opposite Julio.

--Preston Dial's numbers (3 catches for 60 yards and 2 TDs). A returning starter at H-Back, he's another guy who's mostly carved out his spot on the team by being a terrific run blocker. That said, with Colin Peek gone and Michael Williams somewhat of an unknown quantity in terms of his ability to be a viable receiving option, Dial has an opportunity make some plays this season. Days like this will certainly have McElroy looking his way more often.

--DeAndrew White. Based on his stat line and the fact that he's an incoming freshman, I would guess he was the recipient of Phillip Sims' 78 yard TD pass. I've heard a lot about his lethal speed, but I didn't expect him to bust such a huge play so early in his career. He could force the coaching staff to hold off on that redshirt if he keeps this up.

--Dont'a Hightower only recorded 3 tackles. Part of me wonders if he had some other numbers that were tastefully withheld by the coaching staff.

--Phelon Jones is still on the team. Seriously, to be one of the few guys in the secondary with any amount of playing experience, I had heard, almost literally, nothing about Jones in camp. If he doesn't get on the field this season, he probably never will.

5. Things That Didn't Surprise Me:

--Julio's numbers (7 catches for 99 yards and 2 TDs). Julio is a scrimmage All-American. He always has a big stat line. But after watching him through most of last makes you wonder. Is he getting all these catches against the 3rd team or what? Where is this guy on game day? I hope the common Julio Defense proves to be true, and last season was just a result of being injured and trying to develop a good relationship with a new QB. He's got a lot to prove in 2010.

--The running backs got limited work running the football. The coaches know what they have there. No reason to risk a freak injury. Which actually almost happened anyway, when Mark Ingram was reportedly laid out by Mark Barron late in the scrimmage. They even brought the dreaded cart out for him before he was able to walk off under his own power.

--9 of the 13 TDs were scored from 26 yards out or less. Getting into the endzone and not settling for field goals is a point of emphasis this year. Over the past two seasons, departed kicker Leigh Tiffin averaged 32 FG attempts. I've said it before and I'll say it again: If we kick that many field goals in 2010, we'll have two losses. At least. That's how sketchy the kick situation is. We MUST get in the endzone. Expect us to go for it on 4th down from 30 yards and in with much greater frequency as well.

All in all, it's important to keep perspective right now. Everybody was in agreement that the secondary was going to be a work in progress this year, so let's not lose sight of that now. There are still 3 weeks left in camp, and then 3 straight weeks of non-conference games before we get into the SEC schedule. That's plenty of time to make significant progress, as long as everybody can get/stay healthy. At least give it until the second scrimmage before you start pulling your hair out.

And to that end, I'm here to offer distractions. First, here's a nice little fluff piece from the prolific Don Kausler. Because you need to know that Courtney Upshaw is the unanimous choice for Meanest Dude on the Team and that William Vlachos is a rap dancin' enthusiast.

Also, tune in to ESPNU for yet another behind the scenes look at Bama's fall camp. Last week's half hour All Access pieces were really interesting, but essentially just raw footage from practice. This Wednesday's show looks like more of a full-blown production with reality show-style testimonials and all that stuff. If nothing else, Saban's Door must be seen to be believed. I think it replays Thursday on regular ol' ESPN, but don't quote me on that.