TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — As the University of Alabama football team approaches the midway point of fall camp, the coaching staff is beginning to zero in on which players will be counted on to make contributions this season.
The emphasis thus far has been on teaching and installation. There have been few position battles and little movement of where players are lining up to take reps, at least from what reporters have been allowed to observe.
While SEC Country’s Marq Burnett takes a shot at what the depth chart might look like heading into the second and final scrimmage of camp this weekend, here is Alabama’s version of “The Replacements.”
A look at the 10 spots where the Crimson Tide had someone selected in the NFL draft and who is trying to fill the void.
1. Left cornerback (Marlon Humphrey)
Defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick has been lining up just about everywhere in preparation for all possibilities, but indications are that sophomore Trevon Diggs is on pace to try to do the job full time.
“He did what he’s supposed to do,” Fitzpatrick said about Diggs’ scrimmage last Saturday.
If Diggs is taking reps with the first-team secondary this time next week, pencil him in to start against Florida State.
2. Defensive end (Jonathan Allen)
Things have been quiet regarding Da’Shawn Hand since his DUI charge just before the start of camp, which is a good sign for the Crimson Tide. Trying to follow Allen won’t be easy, but Hand was a unanimous 5-star prospect as a recruit who heads into the 2017 season having played in 39 games. Nick Saban was raving about him and senior linebacker Rashaan Evans before Hand’s arrest.
“I’ve been really, really pleased with those guys,” the coach said.
3. Tight end (O.J. Howard)
The two biggest question marks on the team may be kicker and special teams, but for different reasons. The coaches are looking for consistency at kicker and long snapper, especially from the freshmen who are trying to adjust to the collegiate game. At tight end, Irv Smith Jr. has emerged and figures to be in the mix this season. Coming into camp, junior Hale Hentges was considered the every-down tight end and sophomore Miller Forristall more of a receiving option. Smith can do both.
“There’s a good bit of depth,” Hentges said. “We have guys like Irv Smith, who is extremely good. A lot of people haven’t heard much about him yet just because he didn’t play a whole lot last year, but this guy has a ton of talent.”
4. Interior linebacker (Reuben Foster)
You don’t simply replace a linebacker such as Reuben Foster, but Evans is off to a good start. Judging by the way he can go sideline to sideline, he could be a tackling machine this season. The senior is trying to fill the leadership void as well.
“Rashaan’s a lot like Reuben,” running back Damien Harris said while referring to their personalities. “He’s an incredibly hard worker. He focuses on the small details. He’s just a really, really positive guy on our team, and he’s a true leader. He’s [also] somebody that kind of mixes it up and has fun every now and then.”
5. Offensive line (Cam Robinson)
Sophomore Jonah Williams successfully made the transition from right tackle to left tackle, while sophomore Matt Womack hasn’t budged from right tackle since the start of camp.
Saban indicated there might be some experimenting with freshmen Alex Leatherwood and Jedrick Wills this week. During practice on Monday, Leatherwood was working behind Williams at left tackle with Wills behind Womack on the right side. Regardless, some young depth is developing.
“It’s a challenge. You know how tough it is to come in and compete at a level that we’re expected to on a daily basis,” Williams said. “I think that it all comes down to working hard. It sounds cliché, but you come in, you learn your plays, you study them. You study extra film. You spend extra time in the weight room. You spend time with some of the older guys learning the techniques and how to handle different situations.
“I think they’ll all be fine. … Like Coach Saban always says, ‘We’ll play the five best.’ You might not always like it, but it’s always fair.”
6. Jack linebacker (Ryan Anderson)
Sophomore Anfernee Jennings, who played in all 15 games last season after redshirting, has been taking first-team reps. Sophomore Terrell Lewis has shown he’s ready to be a regular contributor as well. Alabama probably will do more rotating at this spot to always have someone fresh on the field.
“I think I got comf … I ain’t really comfortable, I want to say I got experience [last season],” Jennings said. “I got the experience that I needed. I played in a couple [games], and I had guys like Ryan and Tim [Williams], they were great players. I could watch them for two years and learn from them.”
7. Defensive end (Dalvin Tomlinson)
Massive sophomore Raekwon Davis has been working primarily with the first unit and might be on the verge of landing a spot in the base package. Size will get you a lot as a lineman. Davis is listed as 6-foot-7, 306 pounds, but his teammates have been talking more about his work ethic.
“He’s a really big human being, but he’s worked hard,” Williams said. “I’ve been watching him since he came in last summer, and he’s always one of the guys in the front of the 110s when we were conditioning this summer and working hard in the weight room. It’s good to see a guy like that come in and develop physically to match up with his natural athletic ability.”
8. Strongside linebacker (Tim Williams)
Junior Christian Miller might be Alabama’s best pass rusher, and it will be tough to take him off the field when Alabama brings in extra defensive backs. He played in all 15 games last season and could line up in a variety of spots in obvious passing situations.
“It’s kind of what I expected,” Miller said. “Coming in and competing and just working to be the best I can. That’s what I’ve done, and it’s starting to pay off.”
9. Wide receiver (ArDarius Stewart)
Alabama lost as much in terms of intangibles and leadership with ArDarius Stewart as his receiving skills. Senior Robert Foster, who had earned a starting job in 2015 before a right shoulder injury derailed his season, is more of a deep threat and has been saying all the right things.
“I’ve liked his attitude,” Saban said. “Robert is a fast guy who’s very explosive. I think there are certain things that he could do really well for us. I know Brian [Daboll] will use him the best way that he can to feature some of those abilities and talents. Robert’s consistency in performance is going to be the key to the drill and that’s something he’s working hard on, we’re working hard on with him. He’s done a really good job so far.”
10. Safety (Eddie Jackson)
Fitzpatrick effectively took Eddie Jackson’s place for the second half of last season after Jackson suffered a left leg fracture, and the returning All-American could play anywhere in the secondary.
“He already knows the defense, and he’s still learning the defense,” senior cornerback Anthony Averett said. “The defense is hard, but he could pretty much play anything if he puts his mind to it.”
The leadership aspect of the position has been a bigger challenge for Fitzpatrick, although he was the first one to say on the record that the secondary played well during the scrimmage last week. He’s stepping up in that area as well.
“I like where we are right now,” Fitzpatrick said.