Biggest Storylines Heading into Alabama Fall Camp
We’re less than five weeks away from Alabama’s season-opener against West Virginia on August 30, which means the offseason will come to a close very soon.
The Crimson Tide will open fall camp this weekend. The pads will (eventually) come on, opponent-specific preparation will begin, summer enrollees from the No. 1 recruiting class in 2014 will hit the field, and we’ll start to see just what the 2014 Alabama football team has to offer.
Here are five storylines to keep an eye on in fall camp leading up to the West Virginia game.
Alabama suffered a big blow when cornerback Eddie Jackson went down during spring practice.
Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban called Jackson “our best corner, most consistent” after his knee injury, which required surgery, and he was expected to be the No. 1 corner heading into the season.
Now, Alabama will be looking toward veterans Cyrus Jones and Bradley Sylve, who had their chances in 2013 but never really grabbed consistent starting roles.
The wild cards here are freshmen Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey. Brown and Humphrey were both 5-stars and the Nos. 2 and 3 cornerbacks in the class of 2014, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.
Brown enrolled in the spring and was getting some starting reps by the end of spring practice. He looked the part physically when he arrived, and his hard work paid off when he nabbed an interception at A-Day.
It’s not out of the question to consider one or even two freshman cornerbacks starting for Alabama at some point this season.
Who Steps Up?
It’s pretty clear who Alabama’s top playmakers will be on both sides of the ball this year: Amari Cooper and T.J. Yeldon on offense, and Trey DePriest and Landon Collins on defense.
But perhaps just as important will be who steps up off the field on a team that will be relying on a lot of young talent to contribute.
Departed quarterback AJ McCarron pointed to entitlement among younger players as a reason for Alabama’s consecutive losses to end the 2013 season. Senior wide receiver Christion Jones, though, disagreed.
“You can’t separate a certain group from the team,” Jones said, according to D.C. Reeves of The Tuscaloosa News. “Not to blame but really have to look at and check the leadership because if leadership on the team is consistent, then that’s who’s going to follow them, the younger guys, because that’s all they see.”
While the four mentioned above will likely take on leadership roles as well, guys like senior right tackle Austin Shepherd, senior safety Jarrick Williams and Jones are all respected veterans who could have their voices heard.
How Does Saban Handle Offseason Discipline?
Three players expected to contribute in 2014 were arrested during the offseason, bringing into question how much that will affect their roles as the season approaches.
Linebacker Dillon Lee was taking first-team reps as an outside linebacker in Alabama’s base 3-4 and inside in nickel looks before an early April DUI knocked him back down the depth chart.
JUCO transfer defensive lineman Jarran Reed (also DUI), who played with the 1s on defense at A-Day, and running back Kenyan Drake (obstructing governmental operations, crossing crime scene tape) were both arrested in the span of a week, and Saban said at SEC Media Days that the two were suspended for the time being.
It’s unclear how much time each will miss or what their respective punishments will be.
Defensive back Geno Smith missed the 2013 season-opener against Virginia Tech following an August DUI. Reed could meet the same fate, while Lee’s timing may have made for a rough spring but could save him a suspension. Drake was already in hot water, losing his No. 2 running back role to Derrick Henry and having previously dealt with off-field issues of his own.
Some early fall camp practice positioning could provide clues as to how Saban is handling the individual disciplinary matters.
Kiffin Makes His Mark
Still, there are plenty of questions that remain as the season nears: How will Kiffin split carries among Yeldon, Henry and Drake? What kind of responsibility will the new quarterback (more on that in a minute) have, especially early on? Can he keep all of those talented wide receivers happy? Will Alabama operate with any kind of tempo, as is becoming the trend across the country?
The spring was more about getting players acclimated to new terminology and understanding the concepts. They’ll be put to use in the fall.
While we’ll probably see some glimpses of it in camp and into the West Virginia game, don’t be surprised if the whole playbook isn’t opened up until late in the season.
The spotlight won’t be any brighter or sharper during fall camp than it will be on the quarterbacks.
Alabama hasn’t had a quarterback competition since 2011, which was eventually won by a guy who went on to win two national championships and finish a runner-up for the Heisman.
That year, McCarron and Phillip Sims battled into the second game of the season, splitting reps against Kent State with McCarron taking control on the road at Penn State.
Expect this year’s to go similarly, with Saban not in any sort of rush to name a starter and possibly seeing two quarterbacks against West Virginia and beyond.
Returning senior Blake Sims and Florida State transfer Jacob Coker are the front-runners for the job, with redshirt freshman Cooper Bateman an outside contender in distant third. Sims and Coker are the likely candidates to get in-game reps. Don’t expect there to be a resolution any time soon.
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