TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The signs are there if you know where to look for them: from comments made by Nick Saban and the players, photos posted on social media by the University of Alabama and even the highlight video from Friday’s spring scrimmage.
Granted, trying to make any broad assessments from them can be like watching the teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi and hoping to comprehend the full plot. No one will be able to until seeing the whole thing in its entirety.
Nevertheless, put the pieces that are available together and there are already indications that Alabama’s passing game will be more diverse in 2017.
Saban even said as much with “I thought we were much more effective passing the football,” after the first spring scrimmage on April 8. Following the second scrimmage he made it clear that he wasn’t pleased with the way the secondary had been playing against the pass.
As the coach always says regarding scrimmages, if someone looks good, someone else usually looks bad, and vice-versa. When he was talking about the secondary he made a point of emphasizing that it primarily was the reserves who were having the most issues.
“It’s pretty obvious to me that we don’t have enough respect for the deep part of the field in the back end, especially past the first team because we gave up quite a few explosive plays with the second and third secondary when they were in there,” he said.
That led to the following comment from senior safety Hootie Jones, which only reinforced what opposing teams thought of the Crimson Tide’s offense at the end of last season:
“We didn’t think they was going to probably pass it that much, but when we did think they were going to pass it, we (thought) it was gonna be short passes. And that was killing the defense. Honestly, I can’t sugar coat it.”
So who have been the players giving them the most trouble?
Even though Alabama’s scrimmages have been closed, with very few statistics revealed, it’s not too difficult to guess. Cue Saban again from the first scrimmage:
“Robert [Foster] did a much better job today. He was very engaged out there today. Made some catches. Calvin Ridley had a big day. I think he has like 8 catches or something. Robert had 3 catches. T.J. Simmons had 7 catches. The backs had quite a few catches.”
There was also the Najee Harris photo of the freshman running back hurdling a defender. Going back to the video, there’s clear shots of Foster making a sideline reception and trying to turn it into a big gain, and early enrollee Jerry Jeudy catching a deep ball.
— Alabama Football (@AlabamaFTBL) April 15, 2017
“Shifty,” senior Cam Sims said about the younger receivers. “There’s nothing like it. I don’t got what they got. So, I like seeing what they got.”
Saban also referred to tight end Irv Smith as having a lot of potential and called sophomore Miller Forristall “O.J.-like” in terms of catching the ball like the Crimson Tide’s former tight end O.J. Howard.
“I’m not quite O.J., and I know that,” Forristall said.
“O.J.’s a great player, a great guy and I respect him a lot. So it was a compliment.”
So now put it all together.
- Alabama has a returning starting quarterback for the first time in four years, with sophomore Jalen Hurts. That alone should make the passing game better.
- Saban has been on an impressive recruiting run when it comes to adding explosive playmakers. Some are more experienced than others, and there are still a few top-ranking prospects from the signing class of 2017 who haven’t arrived yet, but their teammates have been offering high praise.
- Alabama is catching more passes out of the backfield to get the running backs more involved, and the ball in space.
- Even without Howard, Alabama has receiving threats at tight end.
- Among the top wide receivers, Ridley could be looking at another 1,000-yard season. Foster appears poised to be a starter again and ready to fulfill his potential. Sims will be a 6-foot-5 receiver in the slot. Teammates are claiming that Jeudy is almost a clone of Ridley.
“Only thing different is probably Jerry Jeudy is a little bit taller than Calvin,” Sims said. “That’s it. They both nightmares for a DB.”
So while everyone should be skeptical about anything that happens in a spring scrimmage, even next week’s A-Day game as this is when Alabama coaches can experiment and see what the players can do, there’s a lot of potential with this offense — and not just on the ground.
The more options the offense has, the tougher the Crimson Tide will be to stop.