Alabama Football: 5 Things to Watch for in Tide's First Fall Scrimmage
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama will get its first taste of live football action on Saturday when the team takes to Bryant-Denny Stadium for the first of two preseason scrimmages.
The scrimmages are closed to the general public, and media only get to watch five or so minutes of warm-ups—enough to check roles and participation but not much else. But there is still information to be gleaned from these tune-ups in the form of select scrimmage stats provided by Alabama and coach Nick Saban’s post-scrimmage comments.
It’s all a very take-it-with-a-grain-of-salt exercise, as only certain stats are released, and they don’t necessarily represent a full game’s worth of work—often times, the stats include extra situational work like goal-line and two-minute drills.
Still, it can give you some idea about the direction of the team and who’s standing out.
With that, here are five things to watch for on Saturday.
Alabama has a trio of players still indefinitely suspended, according to Saban: linebacker Tim Williams and defensive linemen Brandon Ivory and Jarran Reed.
Additionally, defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson was missing from both of Alabama’s two-a-day practices on Wednesday, according to Andrew Gribble of AL.com. Saban is expected to update Robinson’s status at Thursday evening’s press conference.
Reed, Ivory and Robinson were the Crimson Tide’s starting trio on the defensive line throughout much of the spring and A-Day. Having all three miss any significant time would be a big blow up front to Alabama.
We’ll be keeping an eye out for that defensive line trio and Williams on Saturday.
Update: Aaron Suttles of The Tuscaloosa News reports that Reed and Ivory practiced on Thursday afternoon. Their status for Saturday's scrimmage is still unknown.
Update 2: Saban announced on Thursday that Reed and Ivory are back working with the team. They will go through a five-day acclimation period before fully re-joining practice. He also said that Robinson has a sprained knee that won't require surgery. They are being cautious and expect him back in a few days' to a week's time.
Cornerback Eddie Jackson is making a smoother and quicker recovery than initially thought, but it’s unclear how much of a role he’ll play in the scrimmage. His injury in the spring occurred in a similar closed scrimmage, though details of how it happened are not public.
Linebacker Trey DePriest is also nursing what Saban called a minor injury. Per Gribble, he hasn’t appeared to be at 100 percent in practice yet.
DePriest and Jackson are expected to make major contributions on defense next season (in Jackson's case, depending on when he fully recovers from surgery). Robinson’s absence could also be due to injury. Their progress will be watched carefully.
We’ll also be watching to see if any more impactful injuries occur during the scrimmage like Jackson’s a few months ago.
Update: Robinson's absence was due to an injury, a sprained knee that won't require surgery and should put him back in practice in a week or so.
How Are the Carries Split?
A big question that new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will face is how he uses the running back trio of T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake.
All three are talented backs with their own individual strengths and weaknesses, and while Alabama has typically used a two-back rotation under Saban, he hasn’t seen three backs with this amount of talent and experience on the same roster.
Should all three’s stats be released, we’ll have a good idea of how the carries are being split—whether Yeldon and Henry get the majority of them or if Drake joins the mix as well.
It’s not gospel, and it certainly won’t be indicative of how they’ll be used against West Virginia, but you can see how the coaching staff is experimenting three weeks out from the opener.
One of Alabama’s biggest weaknesses in recent years has been the kicking game, which arguably lost the Crimson Tide key games against Auburn in 2013 and LSU in 2011.
Sophomore Adam Griffith enters the season as the de facto No. 1 kicker, but his 1-for-3 performance combined with a missed extra point at A-Day didn’t exactly instill confidence in the fans.
Freshman JK Scott is expected to handle punting duties, but he did some kicking in high school and could get a look there, too. Otherwise, a host of walk-ons will get an opportunity to unseat Griffith.
It’s the area that will undoubtedly receive the most focus, and thus the one from which Saban might deflect the most attention.
Saturday’s scrimmage will likely be the first time that Blake Sims and Jacob Coker get to go head-to-head in a game-like atmosphere.
Coker has been on campus since the beginning of May and has had some time to soak in new offensive schemes and develop some chemistry with his teammates. Meanwhile, Sims has been around for five years and knows the system in and out.
The last time Alabama had a quarterback battle in 2011, Saban was particularly mum. He didn’t release stats and offered up this comment, per Kevin Scarbinsky of AL.com.
"I don't want to make this a public controversy," Saban said. "This is something that we're going to handle internally. We're going to handle it internally with the players. They're doing a great job of handling it, and I don't think we need anyone to add to the confusion."
Saban hasn’t said much on the quarterbacks thus far. Don’t expect to get much more insight after Saturday’s scrimmage, even if it gives the staff a better idea about their two signal-callers.
Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats come from CFBStats.com. All recruiting information comes from 247Sports.
Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.