Alabama Football: Final Winners and Losers from Spring Ball
It was pretty obvious whom University of Alabama coach Nick Saban was referring to when he opened his press conference after A-Day by saying, “Nobody ever has a bad spring game.”
Senior quarterback Blake Sims, who had been obviously pressing, didn’t have best day when completing 13 of 30 passes for 178 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions.
But A-Day is not when the Crimson Tide coaches do most of their spring evaluations. The majority of it had already been done during the closed practices and first two scrimmages, when Sims posted better numbers.
Instead, A-Day is mostly for show and for fans. The playbook is scaled down, the players aren’t expected to do anything too extreme, and everyone hopes that there aren’t any significant injuries.
So, yes, it almost does have a Little League feel to it in that you want all of the players feeling good about themselves at the end. Nearly every Crimson Tide player got a trophy as well:
Lee Roy Jordan Headhunter Award—Jalston Fowler, Reggie Ragland
Jerry Duncan “I Like to Practice” Award—Chris Black, DJ Pettway, Bradley Sylve, Nick Perry
Billy Neighbors Defensive Lineman Award—A’Shawn Robinson
Paul Crane Offensive Lineman Award—Austin Shepherd
Bobby Johns Defensive Back Award—Landon Collins, Jarrick Williams
Johnny Musso Offensive Back Award—T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry
Ray Perkins Receiver Award—Amari Cooper, Christion Jones
Woodrow Lowe Linebacker Award—Trey Depriest
Derrick Thomas Community Service Award—Arie Kouandjio, O.J. Howard
Bear Bryant Outstanding Non-Scholarship Award—Paul Waldrop, Tyler Owens, Parker Barrineau, Josh Dickerson
Ozzie Newsome Most Improved Freshman Award—Cam Robinson, Tony Brown, Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams, Eddie Jackson, Robert Foster
Bart Starr Most Improved Player Award—Geno Smith, Xzavier Dickson, Leon Brown, Jarran Reed, Brandon Ivory, Grant Hill
Mal Moore Leadership Award—Brian Vogler, Denzel Devall
Sylvester Croom Commitment to Excellence Award—Blake Sims, Ryan Kelly
Dwight Stephenson Lineman of the A-Day Game Award—DJ Pettway, Jonathan Allen
Dixie Howell Memorial Most Valuable Player of the A-Day Game Award—T.J. Yeldon
Nevertheless, here are the players and coaches who really had a good spring and those you can only say, “Not so much:”
Winner: Nick Saban
- Help the players rediscover their mental edge and hunger after not winning the national championship for the first time since 2010.
- Get the fanbase reinvigorated as well.
- Re-establish the recruiting base and keep Alabama the primary destination for top talent.
Somewhere on a piece of paper Nick Saban scribbled down a number of goals for this spring, which included three key items:
In all three areas it was mission accomplished.
“I am very encouraged by the team that we have,” he said. “I’m very encouraged by the attitude that we have on our team. I’m certainly looking forward to working with this group and us improving over the summer and getting a great start to the season next year when we start fall camp.”
Even though A-Day was held on Easter weekend and quarterback Jacob Coker, who will compete for the starting quarterback job after transferring from Florida State, couldn’t participate, it was still the best-attended spring game in the nation.
Alabama, drew 73,506 to beat out Penn State (72,000) and Auburn (70,645) for largest crowd.
Even better for the coach was after the game he received commitments from four prime recruits: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Shawn Burgess-Becker, Calvin Ridley and Leo Lewis.
Yes, it was a very good spring for Saban.
Loser: Altee Tenpenny
Carries were already tough to come by for reserve running back Altee Tenpenny, who had a spring to forget.
During spring break, Tenpenny went home to North Little Rock, Arkansas, where he was pulled over for an inoperable license plate light only to be arrested for marijuana possession after the officer detected “the odor of burnt marijuana.” The charges can be dropped if he stays out of trouble for a year.
To make matters worse, though, he and Kenyan Drake were both held out of the final practice before A-Day because they "didn't do what they were supposed to do in school this week," said Nick Saban, who instead sent them to study hall.
"All these players need to learn that they have a responsibility and an obligation to do the right thing for themselves," the coach said. "We're not asking one player here to do anything that's not going to benefit him. That's really what we're trying to do. Our guys getting an education and doing what they're supposed to do in school is the top priority. We have a systematic approach to how they need to do it.
"They understand it when they don't do those things, ultimately I don't think we should let them participate."
Both running backs played with the White team, of second-unit players, on A-Day. Drake had seven carries for 34 yards and a fumble, while Tenpenny had 10 attempts for 20 yards.
Winner: Cam Robinson/Leon Brown
The Alabama coaching staff didn’t want to put too much pressure on early enrollee Cam Robinson, who has ideal size to play left tackle but is still only 18 years old.
By the final week of spring practices, the decision was made to put him with the first unit to start learning under fire.
“Cam has done a really good job,” Nick Saban said. “He knows and we know that he has a ways to go and it'll be probably a little bit of a work in progress probably right up until the first game.”
Not only did Robinson’s emergence answer the biggest pre-spring question on the offensive line, but it allowed coaches to define Leon Brown’s role at right guard next to tackle Austin Shepherd, so there are two seniors together to the right of junior center Ryan Kelly.
It appeared to be a good fit as Saban went from saying “We want to give him a good opportunity at guard and see how he develops,” to declaring Brown, a junior college transfer last year, one of his best offensive linemen.
Loser: Reuben Foster
There’s no doubt that sophomore Reuben Foster is an extremely talented linebacker, as his teammates rave about his ability, tenaciousness and hard-hitting nature.
“He brings it every time,” said wide receiver Chris Black while calling Foster the Crimson Tide player he hates getting tackled by the most.
However, in some ways Foster has been his own worst enemy. Last year he twice knocked himself out while trying to make a tackle and had a stinger that caused him to wear extra neck padding.
During the spring the sophomore sustained both another stinger in a scrimmage and a small concussion on A-Day.
Foster was working with the first unit during the start of spring, but coaches obviously have to be more careful with him.
Winner: Amari Cooper
After last year’s injury-plagued season, during which his production dropped from 1,000 yards as a freshman to 736, Amari Cooper not only re-established himself, but showed that he’s Alabama’s best offensive player.
Granted, he only had three receptions for 45 yards on A-Day. When quarterback Blake Sims had some trouble getting him the ball, Cooper still averaged more than 100 yards in each of the three spring scrimmages.
“They guy’s really an explosive guy,” Nick Saban said. “He’s got great speed, he’s got really good hands, he’s got good size. He can catch the ball vertically down the field. He’s difficult to cover coming out of a break. He’s good against press (coverage), so he’s a pretty hard guy to stop unless you put two guys on him.”
Bottom line: Cooper could be poised for a monster year.
Loser: Eddie Jackson
Sophomore Eddie Jackson played in seven games last season, with four starts, and was the Crimson Tide’s best cornerback when he sustained a knee injury during the first scrimmage of spring.
Alabama is still hopeful of getting him back at some point in the fall, but even with the fastest of recoveries he won’t be ready to go during camp in August.
“I feel terrible for the guy,” said former Alabama safety Vinnie Sunseri, who tore his ACL last season. “I told him Eric Berry tore his ACL, Adrian Peterson has tore his ACL. There’s no reason you can’t be exactly like them. That’s what I told myself. Everybody starts at the same point. It depends on how hard you work to get back to where you’re at and to get where you want to be.”
Winner: Reggie Ragland
At the start of spring, Reggie Ragland was working more with the outside linebackers than in the interior with established middle linebacker Trey DePriest.
So much for that. On A-Day, the junior ended up leading the first-unit defense while playing for the White team. He had 10 tackles, to go with 2.5 for a loss, and made an interception.
“It's time for me to step up and become a leader on the defense,” said Ragland, who doesn’t appear to be going anywhere from weak-side linebacker.
That, of course, is the spot C.J. Mosley used to man for the Crimson Tide.
“Being vocal and making sure you know what to do on the field,” Ragland said is what he learned the most from last year’s Butkus Award winner. So far he’s doing exactly that.
Loser: Dillon Lee
The junior was in prime position to make a big impact and maybe land a starting job this spring only to be arrested April 10 for driving under the influence after a minor accident.
One has to wonder if this was strike two for Lee, who was sent home from Miami prior to the BCS Championship Game at the end of the 2012 season for violating team rules.
On A-Day, Lee was relegated to the second-team defense, which he led with nine tackles, while Denzel Devall and Xzavier Dickson were the starting outside linebackers for the first unit.
“Dillon is very versatile,” Devall said. “Great guy. Very physical. Just an athlete. He's smart, and I believe he'll come in and do a great job for us.”
Winner: Bo Davis
It’s been proved over and over again that anyone joining Nick Saban’s coaching staff has the chance to make a significant career bump, of which defensive line coach Bo Davis was already well aware.
He was with Saban both with the Miami Dolphins as an assistant defensive line coach and assistant strength and conditioning coach, and then with the Crimson Tide from 2007-10.
This time he gets the additional bonus of having some serious depth to work with, including ends A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed, Jonathan Allen, D.J. Pettway, Dalvin Tomlinson, Korren Kirven, Dee Liner, converted linebacker Tim Williams…
No position group looked better on A-Day as the defensive linemen notched nine tackles for a loss, three sacks and a fumble recovery.
“He's a little more aggressive, which I think is what we need,” said senior nose guard Brandon Ivory, who also had Davis as a position coach his freshman year. “Makes sure everybody stay on the right track if somebody gets complacent or something like that. He's pretty more into it."
Loser: Alec Morris
Based on experience, quarterback Alec Morris was thought to be second on the depth chart heading into the spring but was apparently surpassed by Cooper Bateman.
Bateman, a redshirt freshman, started for the White team with the other second-unit players on A-Day. He completed 11 of 24 passes for 156 yards and one touchdown and was the only quarterback who attempted more than one pass not to have an interception.
Morris completed three of seven passes for nine yards, with one interception. Meanwhile, the sophomore took more snaps on special teams as both the holder and punter.
With Alabama’s punters not arriving on campus until this summer, he punted for both teams on A-Day and averaged 38.4 yards on 15 attempts.
Senior safety Nick Perry recently referred to Morris as a “gunslinger,” which pretty much revealed what he needs to improve.
Winner: Tony Brown
True freshman cornerback Tony Brown wore a black no-contact jersey during A-Day to help protect a shoulder injury that dates back to the Under-Armour All-American Game in January but showed flashes of his potential.
Brown was credited with two tackles, an interception and two pass breakups. He also passed the eye test of a big cornerback with some swagger and looked more comfortable as the exhibition game progressed.
“He’s going to be great when he gets it all,” senior safety Jarrick Williams said.
Although Brown's injury will require surgery, with sophomore cornerback Eddie Jackson out with a knee injury he'll be the primary player veterans Bradley Sylve and Cyrus Jones try to hold off when fall camp opens in August.
Loser: Adam Griffith
Last year as a true freshman Adam Griffith was eight of eight on extra points, but just one of three on field goals, including the 57-yard attempt that was returned for a touchdown against Auburn.
Since kicking is as much of a mental task as physical, Griffith could have taken an important step in putting that behind him during A-Day, only his first attempt was an unimpressive miss from 30 yards out, followed by a blocked 47-yard attempt.
Griffith came back and made a 41-yard field goal, but Nick Saban made it clear that incoming freshman J.K. Scott will be given every opportunity to challenge.
“Adam Griffith is a really talented guy,” the coach said. “Obviously, we would like for him to be a little more consistent. We recruited a guy who is a very good kicker as well as a punter, and there will be competition in the fall to play the guy who has the most consistency in terms of kicking.
“That’s definitely one of the areas that we need to improve on.”
Christopher Walsh is the lead Alabama football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.