Alabama had a lot of questions to answer in this A-Day scrimmage, but rush edge play was not one of them.
Will Anderson Jr., Dallas Turner and Chris Braswell gave the world a taste of what opposing quarterbacks can expect this coming fall. What they’re in for can be summed up in one word, blitzkrieg.
There wasn’t a left tackle on the team that could handle any of Bama’s three rush ends for long. Reserve left tackle Tommy Brockermeyer may have done the best job, although that’s like a road crew trying to figure out who among its ditch-diggers is best at composing poetry.
The real answer for Alabama’s offensive tackle woes – and “woes” might be too kind a description of the situation – won’t arrive until August, when Vanderbilt transfer Tyler Steen shows up. The only good side to the problem is that Alabama’s offensive linemen won’t have to play against these guys themselves.
The rest of the game was played under the same convoluted set of rules that most A-Days come with, most notably dressing up three dual-threat quarterbacks in down-by-touch jerseys that largely nullified half their game. A running clock added to the sense of urgency, and as usual, affected playcalling strategy more and more as it went along. By the time the game got to halftime, it was becoming less and less of a real analog for live competition, and any opinions derived from the results will come with large caveats, especially until the full roster reports in August.
Yet, the job here is to identify a few talking points coming out of the game, and look for both the good and the bad. We’ll focus on the same positions, in the same order, that we covered in the preview:
1. Offensive tackle performance was mixed at best, and LT play in particular needs help. Tyler Steen isn’t Evan Neal but he’s got to be better than what we saw Saturday if Alabama wants to make a title run. Kendall Randolph couldn’t stop Will Anderson and most of the time couldn’t even slow him down. Amari Kight did a slightly better job against the second defense’s ends, but not by enough of a margin to think he would have been an improvement over Randolph against the 1s. Tommy Brockermeyer was better than either, but most of his work came late in the game, and he’s clearly not physically developed to the extent that Randolph and Kight are just yet. This is Steen’s job to lose in August, to the point that we believe Randolph won’t even be at this position come fall camp. Damieon George Jr.’s struggles in pass blocking while playing right guard probably means J.C. Latham will have to stay at right tackle, where he had a pretty solid day. For that matter, reserve right tackle Tyler Booker, a true freshman, looked very good all things considered. If Steen isn’t up to the challenge, or gets hurt, it might not be time to press the panic button, but you should at least locate it just in case.
2. Wide receiver was a mixed bag and probably won’t be settled until fall camp. Jermaine Burton did not have a great debut, looking out of sync with Bryce Young the whole day. Most expect he’ll work it out over the fall as he becomes more comfortable in Alabama’s offense, but that’s a situation worth watching. The other starters were Traeshon Holden and JoJo Earle; Holden had probably his best scrimmage at Alabama, but Earle had a terrible day that he salvaged only with a nice comeback route to Bryce Young on a desperation fourth-down play late in the game. The question for Holden is whether he can hold off Ja’Corey Brooks, who missed the game with a minor injury, and the expected arrival of Louisville transfer Tyler Harrell to stay in the rotation at outside receiver. True freshmen Kendrick Law and Aaron Anderson looked competent in their debuts, but didn’t flash like Agiye Hall did a year ago. The best receivers on the field Saturday were Christian Leary and Thaiu Jones-Bell (and Holden), with Leary having the closest thing to a coming-out party in the group. If the battle at slot receiver is truly wide open, then Leary has to have moved around Earle after today. Jones-Bell has been expected by many to transfer out, so he deserves kudos for putting on the performance he had Saturday. Short answer: Everything’s still open.
3. Tight end was a concern, and still is. Alabama only played four players at the position Saturday, and it looks like not much has changed there since the end of 2021. Cameron Latu is head-and-shoulders better than the others. Robbie Ouzts will have a role thanks to his blocking ability alone, but his fumble/drop of an easy ball late in the game was a symptom of the larger problem for him, which is that he’s not a natural receiver. Elijah Brown played sparingly but is a true freshman and was clearly not ready, physically, for more work at this time. Alabama’s third tight end right now is probably walk-on Charlie Skehan; Jax Porter, who we profiled in the pregame analysis, did not play. What’s most likely to happen here is that Kendall Randolph will move back over from the offensive line and get an expanded role. Alabama might also dip into the transfer portal again, but currently there may be no tight ends worth carving out a scholarship slot for.
4. Defensive line had several new players step forward, and there’s a lot to be excited about. This was probably the most unexpected positive development of the day, because Alabama rotated wave after wave of defensive linemen into the game and all of them looked competent at worst and dominant at best. Putting aside a discussion of the expected starters (Byron Young, D.J. Dale, Justin Eboigbe), Jamil Burroughs was the guy who got all the tongues wagging. As we said before the game, Burroughs has twice in two years fought his way into the rotation around mid-year before mysteriously dropping out down the stretch, so maybe this is the time he finally sticks. Alabama needed to find an interior DL who could rush the passer and Burroughs spent Saturday collapsing the pocket time and again. Jah-Marien Latham was also disruptive when he was in the game, and a special shout-out needs to go to redshirt junior Braylen Ingraham, who has stuck it out a long time in Tuscaloosa and made several nice plays when he was in. Monkell Goodwine, Tim Keenan and Damon Payne all flashed ability, and Tim Smith showed the same mixture of strength and burst that got him noticed a year ago. Jaheim Oatis gave fans a glimpse of why he has received the kind of praise that is uncommon for true freshman DLs to garner, Khurtiss Perry showed off a quick first step, and Stephon Wynn Jr. was steady again in relief of the interior tackles. Only Anquin Barnes was quiet out of the younger guys. The future is bright here, and Alabama has enough depth this year to cover up injuries if they come.
5. Jaylen Moody likely slammed the door on the WLB battle, although the reserves played well, too. Deontae Lawson is going to be a very good linebacker very soon, but Jaylen Moody appeared to do what he had to do to stay in front of him heading into fall camp. Nick Saban is famously fond of older players that stick things out, and getting Moody to leave the transfer portal may have been just as important as adding any of the other players that Alabama has brought in. Moody was everywhere Saturday, and gives Bama fans hope that the loss of Christian Harris to the NFL won’t be really felt. Elsewhere, Kendrick Blackshire had a very solid day backing up Henry To’o To’o, appearing to close the gap a bit between himself and Lawson for the role of top backup. Ian Jackson may have been one of the more surprising stories of the day, coming from complete obscurity to have a solid A-Day overall.
6. Other miscellaneous hits and misses:
Enough has already been said about the top trio of outside linebackers, but Quandarrius Robinson, Jihaad Campbell and Jeremiah Alexander were also solid. Robinson has done well to stay in front of more dynamic freshmen, and Saban has mentioned him by name on multiple occasions this spring, always a good sign.
There may be no more deeper unit overall than the defensive backfield. Only one spot is really wide open, that of dime safety, although the Khryee Jackson-Eli Ricks-Ga’Quincy McKinstry battle continues to go on at corner. Jackson was assumed to be the odd man out coming into A-Day, but he had a solid performance and could wind up with one of several roles. Reserve safety Kristian Story looks like the heir apparent to Jordan Battle in 2023. Reserve corner Jahquez Robinson also had a nice afternoon.
Jalen Milroe put some distance between himself and Ty Simpson for the backup quarterback job, if only because of Milroe’s superior running ability. Dare we say it on an Alabama site, but Milroe has some Cam Newton qualities, and if he continues to improve his accuracy, the comparison will become even more on-point. If something were to happen to Bryce Young, Alabama would indeed have to change its offense a bit to fit Milroe’s skill set, but it could be done, and Alabama could easily win with him back there.
The Jahmyr Gibbs transfer may prove to be the biggest among the new Tiders in 2022. Gibbs was the best back on the field Saturday by a fair margin, and certainly the most explosive. He’s essentially Josh Jacobs 2.0 but with perhaps a bit more speed, albeit a touch smaller. His presence will allow Jase McClellan and Roydell Williams to recover from knee injuries at their own pace.
The kicking game was spectacular Saturday, and punter James Burnip had a tremendous performance given the weather. Alabama established that it has two solid placekickers, and Gibbs on kick returns is going to elevate that entire operation. It’s been awhile since Alabama had solid special teams top-to-bottom, but that just might be the case in 2022.
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN