TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The University of Alabama football team’s two significant position experiments this spring are looking more and more like they might become permanent moves.
Coaches are trying Ross Pierschbacher, who started last season at left guard, at center, and Rashaan Evans has switched from outside linebacker to interior linebacker.
“[I] really like Ross at center,” head coach Nick Saban said after last Saturday’s scrimmage at Bryant-Denny Stadium. “I think he’s done a nice job and made that transition fairly well.”
Meanwhile, Evans tied for the team lead with eight tackles and one sack, although it wasn’t clear if he was primarily facing the first- or second-team offense.
“Rashaan is doing really good, actually,” linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton said last week. “Coming from outside to inside, he’s a guy with a high motor. When he sees the ball, he definitely going to hit you real good. He’s always flying around, a great practice player.”
Evans played in 14 games last season, primarily on special teams and as a pass-rusher. He racked up 10 tackles, four sacks and three quarterback hurries.
Should Pierschbacher stay at center, he’ll replace three-year starter and Rimington Trophy winner Ryan Kelly. He started 15 games in 2015 and made Sporting News’ All-Freshman team.
“I talked to Coach Saban with our individual player meeting at the end of the season, and he asked what I thought about it,” Pierschbacher said. “I said I was open to whatever helped the team out. That was that.”
Defensive back Tony Brown’s status appears to be in doubt, as Aaron Suttles of the Tuscaloosa News reported on Sunday that he’s facing an indefinite suspension from the NCAA, and the school is awaiting word on its appeal.
Saban had previously acknowledged that Brown, who was sent home from the Cotton Bowl for violating team rules, was “facing suspensions.” He won’t meet with reporters again until Wednesday.
Brown has been practicing with the Crimson Tide at both cornerback and star, the fifth defensive back position when an extra defensive back is used in the nickel package.
Minkah Fitzpatrick’s been working in the same roles and is hoping to land the starting cornerback job in tandem with Marlon Humphrey. One of the players Saban said has shown improvement is Anthony Averett.
With Eddie Jackson (shoulder) out this spring, Maurice Smith has been working at safety.
“I don’t feel like we have enough depth,” Saban said. “I like the attitude that the players have. I like the work ethic.”
Offensive linemen making strides
Alabama’s offensive line is looking like it could be a real strength—and not just with the eventual starters.
One player who has already turned heads is early enrollee Jonah Williams, who played with the first team at left tackle during the scrimmage.
“He’s stood out a lot,” Hamilton said. “He’s doing great, adjusting to everything. I know he came and practiced with us a little before the national championship game. So you can tell it’s definitely paying off for him.”
Meanwhile, Lester Cotton, who redshirted last season, is also off to a good start and has been taking reps at left tackle, right tackle and guard.
“His knowledge of his game has grown a lot,” Pierschbacher said. “Just playing the offensive line at a collegiate level; it’s a big step, and it takes some guys longer than others. A guy like Lester has all the talent in the world, and he’s going to have a very bright future here.”
Saban has also had good things to say about Cotton along with reserve guards Dallas Warmack and Brandon Kennedy.
“I feel better about the number of guys that we have to coach and develop on the offensive line,” Saban said. “We need to see what we need to do to get the best five guys out there.”
One thing that Alabama coaches won’t be doing this spring is attempting to change Blake Barnett’s throwing motion. The redshirt freshman has a sidearm release that’s somewhat unconventional.
Saban compared it to the way Bernie Kosar threw a football.
“The best thing we can do is go like this and just watch where the ball goes,” Saban said while shielding his eyes. “If it’s accurate and it’s on time and he’s got enough arm strength, then you kind of don’t worry too much about it. If the mechanics of how he throws the ball affects those things, then I think you need to worry about it.
“He doesn’t really wind up; he just takes the ball back, but he is accurate. He does have adequate arm strength.”
More important for the 2016 season appears to be developing the confidence and timing of all three quarterbacks who are hoping to replace Jake Coker.
Cooper Bateman is the only one with any playing experience, while Saban praised David Cornwell’s performance during the first spring scrimmage.
“We’re trying to give everybody a chance right now,” Saban said. “ We’ll evaluate how they did on film and divvy up the reps for next week.”
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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