A-Day 2014: Vanilla offense sputters, defense takes big step forward

 

 

Apr 19, 2014; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; A young Alabama Crimson Tide fan during the A-Day game at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Apr 19, 2014; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; A young fan during the A-Day game at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief

April 19, 2014

 

Getting a read on a team through its A-Day performance is a bit like trying to pick the winner of the Daytona 500 based upon a test drive at the local Chevrolet dealership.

 

Yet, until Alabama actually kicks off the season against West Virginia, it’s all the fans have to go on, and the situation is made even more pronounced by the way Alabama’s coaches limit the team’s exposure to the public in other spring work.

 

For a fan base that was on the edge of its seats Saturday, watching with great interest the battle at quarterback, A-Day didn’t tell them much. Thanks to A-Day rules which completely remove QB scrambles from the list of possible outcomes – anything wearing a black jersey is considered “sacked” if they so happen to get breathed upon by a defensive lineman – Blake Sims might as well have been a boat anchor. A-Day ended up being a poor barometer of Sims’ skill set, and the quarterback competition is no clearer now than it was prior to the game.

 

That means fan debate over which quarterback, Sims or Florida State transfer Jacob Coker, will start the West Virginia game isn’t likely to abate in the least over the summer. Both Sims and , the top two quarterbacks Saturday, were inconsistent, and both were the victim of multiple dropped passes. Bateman, who was 11-of-24 for 156 yards and a touchdown, was probably the brightest spot for the offense, given how far he had come in a year’s time.

 

Sims didn’t begin to look comfortable until the fourth quarter. A pick-6 was the perigee of his day; it was set in motion by a missed block from freshman left tackle Cam Robinson, but Sims should probably have eaten the throw anyway. Even before then, Sims’ reads were inconsistent. Receiver Chris Black finally bailed him out by catching a 55-yard touchdown pass after having spent the first three quarters being inconsistent in his own right.

 

The highlight of the day, by far, was the play of the defensive line. Whether it was due to the return of defensive line coach Bo Davis, or simply the result of an infusion of talent – , plus the return of and – wasn’t clear. What was clear, though, was that Alabama got better penetration than it has shown in recent seasons, affected the quarterback more and stuffed more running plays.

 

Here’s a brief rundown of various aspects of the 2014 A-Day game:

 

Quarterback

Highs: Cooper Bateman barely played in the 2013 game and when he did, was arguably the least effective QB on the roster. Bateman started and finished strong, although the middle quarters were unkind to him. He displayed good touch and a decent feel for the game, and didn’t make any dumb decisions. Blake Sims showed the ability to throw on the run and Alabama’s rollout passing game will be intriguing once the QBs go live in the fall.

Lows: It wasn’t that Sims couldn’t hit a handful of open receivers, it’s that he never saw them to begin with. Bateman had a couple of missed reads as well, but not as many as did Sims. The inability to run the ball thanks to the contact rules seemed to affect Sims mentally as well, although this won’t be relevant once real games start. Depth also looked like an issue; Alec Morris had a tough time in relief of Bateman and Parker McLeod appeared to be out of contention altogether.

 

Running back

Highs: solidified his hold on the position and was the only running back that seemed to be forever moving forward. Tyren Jones was actually the most consistent back other than Yeldon and could have a role as a third-down back in 2014.

Lows: Derrick Henry never got going, and got caught laterally or from behind whenever he tried to run outside the tackles. Kenyan Drake was on his way to having a strong game until fumbling the ball and setting up a Crimson team touchdown. Altee Tenpenny had a couple of nice runs up the middle but was otherwise contained. Blocking from the fullback position was still scattershot.

 

Wide receivers/tight ends

Highs: put together a nice game overall, although he did drop a pass and then tweak an ankle late in the contest. His physicality was easy to spot and it differentiated him from the other competitors. Chris Black’s touchdown, splitting four defenders in the process, was the best single play of the game, and ArDarius Stewart made a nice recovery on one tipped pass and then showed off great body positioning on his touchdown catch in the fourth quarter. Walk-on Parker Barrineau probably earned some playing time this fall.

Lows: The tight ends were basically dead positions, either by design or simply because they couldn’t get open. There were way too many drops from the wideouts early on, although they seemed to correct the problem later in the game. Christion Jones appeared to get his bell rung late in the fourth quarter, but he walked off under his own power.

 

Offensive line

Highs: The right side of the line is solid, and has depth. , and were strong for the Crimson team, and Alphonse Taylor did a good job for the White. Bradley Bozeman showed versatility at multiple positions.

Lows: The left side needs work, and there’s not enough depth there at the moment. Arie Kouandjio was effective when moving in a straight line on power blocks, but he whiffed badly on a couple of screens and didn’t have sufficient flexibility in space. The White team operated with a walk-on at center (Paul Waldrop), used Bozeman and Isaac Luatua at left guard and Brandon Greene at left tackle. Consistency was the biggest issue, with several “blow-up” plays coming from that side. On the few times the coaches turned the defense loose to blitz, the line couldn’t stop it. The arrival of JUCO signee Dominick Jackson may be as important, or more so, than the arrival of Coker at QB.

 

Defensive line

Highs: Everything. Jarran Reed appears to be an upgrade over either Ed Stinson or Jeoffrey Pagan and could very well be a one-and-done player. Overall, the line was simply more aggressive, harder to penetrate, stronger at the point of attack and appeared to be moving downhill on every snap. Dakota Ball had a nice game inside and gives Alabama much-needed depth behind Brandon Ivory. Dalvin Tomlinson looked good in his return, but D.J. Pettway may be the real story here. The weight he added while in junior college has turned him from a pass-rushing specialist into a three-down lineman with a nose for the big play. Even little-used senior Anthony Orr looked good, blowing through an otherwise strong right side of the Crimson line late to disrupt a Blake Sims pass. Not everyone looked like all-stars, but no one appeared to have a bad day.

Lows: They can’t all play at the same time. That may be the only negative with this group.

 

Linebackers

Highs: surprised many by beating out for a starting job inside, but he showed why with a strong performance Saturday. Ragland brings more beef than C.J Mosley ever had, and while he’s not the coverage linebacker that Mosley was, he still did a good job with his assignments Saturday. Trey DePriest was solid, and newcomer Shaun Dion Hamilton has a solid day. Walker Jones got in the game late and showed good lateral pursuit ability. Walk-on Tyler Owens seemed to handle his assignments well. Outside, Denzel Devall and Xzavier Dickson both made multiple plays.

Lows: Reuben Foster was having a good game as an inside battering ram until suffering what appeared to be a concussion just before the half. Foster has struggled to stay healthy during his time in Tuscaloosa, and Alabama will need him to figure it out before fall. Looking for other lows requires us to resort to picking nits, but Dillon Lee didn’t exactly stand out. Still, it’s hard to argue with the overall performance.

 

Defensive backs

Highs: started at safety next to Landon Collins for the White team defense and appears to be on his way to locking down the position, which frees up Jarrick Williams and Nick Perry to stick to their roles and avoid being overexposed. Bradley Sylve capped a strong spring with a solid A-Day effort, and Cyrus Jones went virtually unnoticed – which, for a cornerback, is sometimes a very good thing. Tony Brown had the closest thing to a breakout game, and he was limited by injury. The backs seemed to play better top-to-bottom, perhaps a function of Kirby Smart being back with the secondary.

Lows: There were a handful of issues – Maurice Smith and Anthony Averett both had moments they’d like to forget – but those issues seemed to happen further down the depth chart. The biggest negative was that Eddie Jackson didn’t play, and may not again in 2014 unless his rehab goes extremely well.

 

Special teams

Highs: There weren’t many. appears to have a stronger leg for kickoffs than Cade Foster had, and probably locked up the position for the fall. Alec Morris actually wasn’t bad at punter. A couple of short kicks weighed down his average – one of them the result of an ill-advised attempt at a “kill” punt – but if he has to kick in the fall, it won’t be a disaster by any stretch. Plus, having a quarterback at the punting position opens up opportunities for fakes.

Lows: Literally everything else. Griffith missed a 30-yard chip shot badly in the first quarter, then had a longer (but still makeable) kick blocked. He finished the day by shanking an extra-point attempt. The return group as a whole looked lackadaisical, although they were told beforehand that returns were dead on arrival for this game. Still, the low focus level couldn’t have made happy. Walk-ons populated the kick coverage teams – which won’t be the case in the fall – and that’s a good thing, considering lane discipline was often theoretical at best.

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