By Trent Moore
The Cullman Times
Oddly enough, Alabama may have faced one of the best offenses it’ll see all year on Saturday afternoon. Considering the fact the Crimson Tide were playing themselves, that’s saying a lot. Just don’t be fooled by that low score.
Forget that Alabama was guaranteed a win coming into its annual A-Day Crimson and White spring scrimmage, as that didn’t stop 78,315 fans from packing the stadium for a peek at the 2013 edition of the defending national champs. Most could care less that the White team knocked off the Crimson with a 17-14 tally, because they were there to take note of which blue-chippers will light up the scoreboard next year.
So what’d they see? Mostly, a vanilla offense, as well as a smothering defense looking to reload after a stellar campaign last season. But they also saw a whole lot of talent, with Heisman dark horse A.J. McCarron returning at quarterback for his final year, throwing to a more seasoned group of receivers that could be good enough to hang with some of the more highly touted, high-flying offenses across the country. From Kenny Bell to Amari Cooper and beyond, McCarron should have more than a few good targets this fall.
Despite a loaded stable of running backs this spring, T.J. Yeldon proved he’s ready to step into a starring role, after notching over 1,000 yards as the No. 2 man last year. The sophomore ripped off some nice runs Saturday afternoon in limited duty, including a few carries where he took a pile of defenders an extra few yards to guarantee some third-and-medium conversions. He ended the day with 130 total yards and one touchdown. With last year’s bulldozing starter Eddie Lacy gone, those numbers will come in handy.
Though the day proved an obvious chance for Tide fans to crow about back-to-back national championships and get “Rammer Jammer” warmed up for the fall, the spring game also shined a spotlight on a few questionable areas that could prove costly down the line. The biggest? Backup quarterback, which is tentatively held by athletic junior Blake Sims, who ended the day with two interceptions and no touchdowns.
But, coach Nick Saban used the scrimmage as a chance to try out some freshmen triggermen, who showed the future could be bright once they get a little more experience under center. Of everyone not wearing No. 10, freshmen Alec Morris was a standout off the bench, ending the day 10 of 18 for 141 yards. He showed good accuracy and was the only quarterback receiving quality playing time that didn’t throw a pick.
“I would say they all need to improve, and Alex probably played as well as any of them,” Saban said. “Blake has had a really good spring and made good progress as a whole ... But he aborted some of his reads early and started scrambling and didn’t do things like he’s really improved all spring. I thought some of the young guys were a little bit antsy and had trouble managing the game. That’s to be expected, but we certainly need for those guys to develop as well.”
Of course, facing off against one of the best defenses in the country is a tough way for any quarterback to make a debut, and the Tide D feasted on errant passes, with six total interceptions on the day. Though the White team, comprised of the No. 1 offense and No. 2 defense, led most of the game, defensive back Vinnie Sunseri kept the Crimson team in the game with an 88-yard pick-six, coming off a tipped McCarron pass. The Crimson team also recovered a late fumble that was returned for a touchdown by HaHa Clinton-Dix.
“They made some interceptions today, so that’s good, but we have a lot of improving to do back there, as far as consistency and tackling,” Saban said. “I was pleased today we did make some big plays in the secondary, and I think we have some guys who have experience that are playmaker-types. But, we have a lot of work to do in terms of our overall defensive team.”
% Trent Moore can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 220 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.