By: Andrew Wallace
After hosting Crimson Tide Gameday this morning I have compiled a list of my and the WVUA sport staff’s impact questions for the spring game.
10: Will OJ Howard become more of a factor in Lane Kiffin’s offense?
– Kiffin has gone on record stating that he plans to use the big fellow more often. Alabama has had success recently using their Tight Ends in tight spots, most notably the 2011 national championship game when Brad Smelly was a go-to receiver. Howard adds balance and another thing for opposing defenses to have to worry about.
9: Who becomes the second receiver?
– Kevin Norwood and Kenny Bell are gone, opening up a chunk of playing time for young guys. DeAndrew White and Christion Jones are still in Tuscaloosa and should compete for the “Y” wide receiver spot across from Amari Cooper. Cam Sims, Chris Black, and Robert Foster are other names to take into account.
8: Is Adam Griffith the de-facto kicker?
– The second year player has more talent than anybody on the roster. We’ll also see John Pizzitola and Cameron McGuire today. A spring game is a great spot to test a kicker in a real game situation, compared to practice, but there is zero mental pressure as you would see in a real contest.
7: Who replaces CJ Mosely?
– You would think that this question would merit a higher ranking due to the impact that Mosely had on the Crimson Tide defense for four years. My justification is the talent level Alabama has at Linebacker. Denzel Devall, Reggie Ragland, and Trey DePriest will likely battle for one inside LB spot while Dillon Lee and Rueben Foster seem to have an edge on the rest of the competition for the other.
6: How will the Freshman Quarterbacks perform?
– We’ll dissect the QB battle more higher up the list, but the guys who are dueling for the 3 spot as of right now are just as important to watch. David Cornwell has yet to face FBS competition, he’ll be the one we learn most about. Cooper Bateman has a year of Bama experience since he red-shirted last year.
5: How much speed has Amari Cooper regained during the off-season?
– Coop was limited by a foot injury the majority of last year. I asked the analysts on Crimson Tide Gameday if they thought he had a sophomore slump, but the panel said it was tough to blame it on a second year step back when Amari’s speed levels weren’t as high as they were his first year on campus. It’ll be interesting to see if Saban dials up a homerun strike for Cooper at some point.
4: Has Derrick Henry had a good enough spring to truly push TJ Yeldon for playing time?
– Both guys are slated to play for the Crimson side of the football today. This indicates Saban will likely use them with more balance compared to the combo of TJ and Kenyan Drake that we saw last season. This bodes well for Bama because it also shows a commitment to the run and a more dynamic 1-2 punch. Henry compliments Yeldon better than Drake, since Drake offers a fairly similar game as Yeldon.
3: Who impresses on the Offensive Line?
– A lot of hype has been passed down to Cameron Robinson, who will start on the Crimson team. That being said, Bama has three starters returning: Arie Kouandjio, Austin Shepard, and Ryan Kelly. The White team is filled with prospects. Brandon Greene is a player to take note of. He tried to change positions last year to tight end, so you know he has some athleticism. Grant Hill saw some playing time in 2013 due to either injury or lackluster performance in specific games. Isaac Luatua has been around awhile and Leon Brown has had a decent enough spring to make a move on A-Day.
2: Who replaces AJ McCarron?
– This question isn’t my number one priority because I believe this season will see the Tide rededicating themselves to the run game. Nonetheless, this is an important question. Blake Sims is the incumbent because he is a senior. He saw duty as the backup last year and mostly excelled in run-option sets. The coaching staff has been impressed with his improved accuracy and decision making in spring this year. He knows the system exponentially more than any other QB. Cooper Bateman is very much in the mold of McCarron, in that he is a do-it-all signal caller with surprising mobility. He won the Elite-11 D1 QB competition his senior year in high school. Alec Morris is a burly, big armed gunslinger. He doesn’t have the mental fortitude as Sims or Bateman, but does have the size. Parker MCleod will see time today, but doesn’t get a lot of reps in practice and is not expected to be a legitimate threat to win the competition. Finally, David Cornwell is as likely to start as he is never to see playing time at UA. He is the biggest question, but showed vision, poise, and a big arm in high school.
1: Can the Defense Backs produce a lock-down Corner?
– We all know about Landon Collins. He is being counted on to the lead the defense and has done nothing but make plays since he arrived on campus, including as a special teams standout. The question for the DBs is can they churn out a Dee Milliner, or Dre Kirkpatrick type of Nick Saban cornerback? Alabama really struggled versus the pass especially in the tackling department. In the Sugar Bowl, Oklahoma victimized UA with short passing. Throws that didn’t cross the line of scrimmage resulted in too many yards after the catch for the Sooners. Bradley Sylve, Eddie Jackson, and Cyrus Jones are all wearing white today, while Tony Brown and Anthony Averett will be in crimson. Alabama needs to find a guy who they can trust to go head-to-head against star SEC wide receivers. Without that guy, a lot more will be required out of the pass rush, which has not been UA’s forte of late.