TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — To the surprise of no one there’s still no clear front-runner for the University of Alabama’s starting quarterback job—or at least no one head coach Nick Saban is ready to name.
Days after he hinted that the two training camp scrimmages might go a long way in determining who will get the nod for the season opener against Southern California (Sept. 3 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas), Saban was deliberately vague after the first one at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday.
“It sort of gave us a good idea who might be most ready to manage the team, but I think that decision is far from getting made,” was about all that Saban offered to reporters.
No statistics were released for the closed scrimmage, part of which was played in a downpour.
During the brief media observation period, when players went through individual drills, the pecking order at quarterback remained, in order, junior Cooper Bateman, redshirt freshman Blake Barnett and true freshman Jalen Hurts, although Saban said that all thee got a chance to play with the first-, second- and third-team offenses.
Sophomore David Cornwell is still somewhat limited due to a foot injury.
“He did some really good things out there today,” Saban said when specifically asked about Hurts. “I think he does really good things each and every day. I think the key for both younger guys is consistency in performance, taking care of the ball and taking what the defense gives and being satisfied with that.
“I think that all three guys have done a good job of not looking over their shoulder in terms of what the other guy is doing and trying to focus on what they need to do to improve and get better. So, we’re encouraged by the progress.”
The most telling thing about the scrimmage may have been Saban’s demeanor during his press conference; he was in a good mood.
Although Alabama still has three weeks to go before its opener, the reigning national champions appear to be off to a good start on the injury front with no one having had a major setback during training camp.
Saban announced that senior defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson suffered a sprained ankle during Saturday’s scrimmage and might miss a few practices. Junior defensive end Da’Shawn Hand was held out for an undisclosed reason but could be back for Monday’s final two-a-day practices.
“A couple other guys got little, small, light concussions, but we’ll go through the concussion protocol with them,” he added. “I’m not sure that any of them are really, really serious, but we’re going to take every precaution before they get back. Hopefully that won’t be long.”
Running game concerns
Outside of the quarterback competition, the biggest question mark regarding the offense is at running back, where Alabama has to replace Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake, and sophomore Ronnie Clark is out with a torn Achilles.
The returning players have just 64 carries for 283 yards, all by sophomores Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris last season.
“Bo looked good early, got a little dinged so he didn’t practice as much or have as many carries, probably,” Saban said. “The young guys, I think, all did a pretty decent job.”
In addition to depth concerns, as junior Derrick Gore is dealing with a sprained knee and freshman Josh Jacobs a thigh contusion, Scarbrough has a history of injuries. However, Saban singled out true freshman B.J. Emmons, calling him a hard worker and instinctive runner.
“I think they’re all gonna make a contribution to the team this year,” Saban said.
•Alabama is still trying different combinations on the offensive line, but the only starting spot up for grabs may be at right guard, where junior Bradley Bozeman and senior Alphonse Taylor both took snaps Saturday. Taylor started last season only to be demoted during the spring and arrested for a DUI over the summer. Overall, Saban said that the line is healthier and has more depth than a year ago.
•True freshman Jonah Williams has been the first-unit right tackle all camp. “Jonah Williams has done a really, really good job,” Saban said. “He’s gotten a little bigger. He’s gotten a little stronger. He’s smart. He’s confident.”
•Alabama’s defense was already expected to be much faster, but in part due to knee pain, senior interior linebacker Reuben Foster has dropped 15 pounds. He played at roughly 240 last year, was at 235 in the spring and is now at 225. “I’m more explosive. It might sound strange, 225 at linebacker but it feels great,’ he said. “Knees not hurting, back not hurting.”
•Something to watch next week is the secondary as Alabama has been experimenting at star—the fifth defensive back in the nickel formation when the strong-side linebacker is pulled in obvious passing situations. Saban would prefer not to have sophomore Minkah Fitzpatrick start at cornerback and slide over to star when necessary, but with Tony Brown missing the first few games due to a suspension, it may depend on redshirt freshman cornerback Kendall Sheffield’s progress.
•His new teammates are saying a lot of good things about wide receiver Gehrig Dieter, a graduate transfer from Bowling Green. “Gehrig’s really smart,” wide receiver ArDarius Stewart said. “He’s getting it real fast.”
•Saban on next week, which will culminate with another Saturday scrimmage: “What we need to do is get the good players playing really, really well. We’ve got to get the younger players and the backup players to play with a lot more consistency so they can develop a role on this team so that we have more guys that can go in there and contribute and play winning football. That’s the key to the drill.”
Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.
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