A-Day Game Preview

Today’s A-Day Game kicks off at 2:00pm, seen on ESPNU. Since Nick Saban’s arrival in 2007, the game has taken on a life of its own with packed stadiums for each game ever since….so if you can get there (admission is free), be my guest at taking part in one of the most impressive spectacles in the state.

I remember taking my family to the game in 2007 and being turned away, eventually watching from the greasy spoon restaurant just outside the stadium. The food there was great, by the way.

Today, there are a number of story lines worth watching. This is a team that is still plenty deep, but several newcomers will make their debuts. Here are just a few of those stories I’m looking forward to seeing unfold.

AJ McCarron vs. Phillip Sims

According to NFL legend Cris Carter, Alabama finally has two NFL caliber quarterbacks on the same team. The Tide usually has one good quarterback and a few capable back-ups, but it’s a different day in Tuscaloosa.

We’ve already seen a little of McCarron, who’s frame and arm remind me a lot of Brodie Croyle (and remember, before thoughts of Croyle’s injury-prone frame lying on the turf come to mind, Brodie wasn’t surrounded by this kind of talent). Whereas when McElroy went deep, the passes looked labored, McCarron’s release looks absolutely effortless covering wads of real estate with a quick whip of the arm.

But as Jim Dunaway stated on his midday radio show in Birmingham on Thursday, if you think the ball looks tight coming out of AJ’s hand, wait till you see Phillip Sims. The ball looks like it’s shot out of a cannon.

I heard another person put it this way:

“If this were a driver’s education class, with McElroy you’d be driving in a 60 mph zone, and he’d be going 55. You’d have to encourage him to put his foot on the gas a little more…it’s okay to go the speed limit!

“But with Phillip and AJ, running the offense, the coaches will have to keep them from constantly doing 100.”

That person was Phil Savage, Alabama’s color analyst and longtime NFL scout with the Cleveland Browns.

The power is there for both quarterbacks, and for the first time that I can remember in my lifetime, Bama has a playmaker under center having to learn to be a game manager. It’s usually the other way around.

Blake Sims

The “other” Sims, this is the player I’m most looking forward to seeing this season. Jay Barker once told me that David Palmer could do anything. He literally could have played just about any position on the field, outside of offensive/defensive line. Sims is that kind of impact player with the ability to return kicks, line up at receiver, take a handoff in the backfield or even play quarterback, which is where he’s gotten a lot of work this spring. I’ll be interested to see how the coaching staff uses this athlete.

Dee Hart

When Trent Richardson came to Alabama two years ago, he looked like a grown man. The Tide needs a second (and third) running back for Saban’s pound-you-in-the-ground offensive philosophy, and Hart looks to make an impact in that philosophy early. Everybody wanted him, Michigan thought they had him, but the early enrollee will be lining up in the backfield today wearing Crimson.

Jesse Williams

Never in all my days of watching Alabama football had I seen a player like Terrence Cody…a space eater requiring double teams that disrupted what an offense wanted to do. Though he doesn’t have the “extra” girth of Cody, JUCO transfer and Aussie Jesse Williams has been mentioned in that same regard. Look for Williams (wearing #54) to anchor the line today.

The Receivers

Julio is gone, and though he’ll likely be highly regarded for decades to come, Bama needs another receiver to step into that three spot. It’s almost comical that poor Darius Hanks and Marquis Maze have almost been forgotten with the departure of Julio. Check the stats the last two years to see how many big catches this returning duo has made. But my hunch is the presence of Julio created holes for the two that won’t be there this season, so Alabama has to find an answer. And they’re in luck.

Bama is loaded at every position, again unlike any time in my lifetime. The true answer may not be found until Duron Carter, JUCO transfer and son on NFL legend Cris Carter makes it into camp this summer, but look for DeAndrew White and Kenny Bell to make plays today.

Quinton Dial

Another big JUCO on the DL is Quinton Dial. I had the privilege of seeing Dial play in high school and he was a beast. However, it’s his maturity that struck those who knew him back then. A rival coach of his once told me about meeting Dial and that the handshake and greeting was like something you’d get in a high level business meeting…his businesslike approach is no doubt why Saban loves him. Dial will line up at defensive end, but may see some work in the middle as well.

Courtney Upshaw

Is there a player in college football that wreaked more havoc in this final two games of last season than Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw? Upshaw is “this year’s Marcel Darius”, and has been one of my favorites for two years now. He is a force.

Josh Chapman

Chapman is the man in the middle who will show Jesse Williams how it’s done this season. Still the strongest man on the team, the upcoming senior will continue to be another disruptive force for the Tide.

Vinnie Sunseri

The son of Alabama assistant Sal Sunseri, Vinnie was an early enrollee. A linebacker in high school, he’ll likely find a home in the secondary, possibly at strong safety. For one, I just like the name Vinnie. Sounds very Italian and mafia-like. But from a football standpoint, the word out of Tuscaloosa is this is a gritty, tough football player.

The Offensive Line

Last season, to quote the song, Alabama’s offensive line at times lost that lovin’ feeling. Again, for Nick Saban’s offensive philosophy to work, you’ve got to have a line lets you run between the tackles, pounding your opponent into submission into the third and fourth quarters. Alabama didn’t have that last season, but in fairness, after the South Carolina game didn’t play together as a starting unit again until the bowl game.

Familiar names like DJ Fluker, William Vlachos, Barrett Jones and Tyler Love will be joined by Aaron Dougless, Arie Koundjio, Alfred McCullough and this summer, Cyrus Koundjio.

There is so much more. Notice I didn’t say anything about Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy or Dont’a Hightower…you know what you’re getting there. Neither did I mention the other linebackers in the unit of Nico Johnson, C.J. Mosely, Jerrell Harris or early enrollee (who’ll be on the field today), Trey DePriest. I also didn’t mention the returning veteran secondary of Dre Kirkpatrick, Dee Milliner, Mark Barron, Robert Lester, Will Lowery, DeQuan Menzie or the up and coming John Fulton. And I didn’t say anything about another personal favorite of mine, mammoth runningback Jalston Fowler.

This team is deep. Like Challenger Deep deep. So was last year’s squad. The question then becomes can they all learn their roles and gel together as a team? That process starts today, and I for one am looking forward to it.

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