TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Each practice is important, but the scrimmages are where players can really separate themselves. Alabama’s coaching staff uses the scrimmages as a test to see what the players have learned and retained from the week of practice, and how much of that transfers to the field when the coaches aren’t standing over them and helping them every step up of the way.
Saturday marks the first of two closed scrimmages this spring. But before things get started in Bryant-Denny Stadium, here are three things to watch for heading into Alabama’s first scrimmage.
The bullets will be flying as the coaching staff puts each quarterback through game situations to see how they respond. The four competitors — Cooper Bateman, David Cornwell, Blake Barnett and Jalen Hurts — all get an opportunity to show they can take what they learned from the offense during the week, and execute it once 300-pound guys are chasing (but not tackling) them.
Bateman has experience on his side. He started one game (Ole Miss) last season, and handled mop-up duty in others. Tide coach Nick Saban said Bateman has been receiving a lot of the reps with the ones.
Saban is also on record as saying Cornwell’s “arm talent is probably as good as anybody we have.” Cornwell also has two years in the offense.
Both Barnett and Hurts have their own type of experience. Barnett spent last season going against Alabama’s first-team defense, which was the best in the country. Seeing a unit like that every day can only help Barnett’s development. From what reporters have been able to see, Barnett has a great arm and has worked hard to put on some weight.
Hurts joined the team in December and participated in bowl practices. It may seem like a small amount of extra time, but any little bit helps when trying to gain the trust of your teammates and coaches. Hurts can really spin it. He doesn’t look like your typical true freshman.
Through the first seven practices, there’s been plenty of movement along the offensive line. But it’s tough to judge the group with Cam Robinson (shoulder) out. Robinson is a lock at left tackle, but he hasn’t been able to participate in any team drills as he recovers from shoulder surgery.
From what reporters have been able to see, the first offensive line group has featured Ross Pierschbacher at center, Alphonse Taylor at right guard, Bradley Bozeman at left guard, Jonah Williams at left tackle and Lester Cotton at right tackle.
But that group hasn’t been steady. During Friday’s practice, Korren Kirven worked at left tackle, Lester Cotton was at left guard and Williams moved over to right tackle. Point being, there’s a lot of experimenting going on. J.C. Hassenauer and Pierschbacher are the main two guys competing at center.
If Pierschbacher sticks at center, that leaves the left-guard spot open.
With Robinson back at left tackle and Taylor back at right guard, Alabama appears to have open competitions at center, left guard and right tackle.
Cotton is an intriguing player who could play both guard and tackle. Williams can play both tackle spots. There’s also Bozeman, who has experience on his side. Guys like Dallas Warmack, Brandon Kennedy and Charles Baldwin and others are competing for spots as well.
Similar to the offensive line, it’s tough to judge the secondary at this point with Eddie Jackson (leg) limited. Jackson is a lock for one of the safety spots, and there’s a strong chance Ronnie Harrison starts at the other one. Marlon Humphrey is a returning starter at cornerback with the other spot likely going to Minkah Fitzpatrick. But beyond those guys, Alabama needs someone to step up as an extra cornerback and an extra safety when the Tide goes to its nickel and dime packages.
With Fitzpatrick, Alabama has the option of playing him at corner in base and moving him to the star in nickel and dime. But in order to move Fitzpatrick around, a third corner must prove capable of playing a big role. As of Friday’s practice, Anthony Averett served as the third cornerback in the Tide’s subpackages. Averett is a speedster who has three years of experience in the defensive system. Kendall Sheffield is also an option at cornerback.
At safety, Maurice Smith, Laurence “Hootie” Jones, Deointe Thompson and Shawn Burgess-Becker are options beyond Jackson and Harrison. Smith is the most experienced of the bunch. He’s played both the star and money (sixth defensive back) positions in Alabama’s defense. Smith has played both corner and safety throughout his career.
There’s also the curious case of Tony Brown. Brown, who is still serving suspensions, has lined up at the star position. He’s worked at both corner and safety throughout the spring.