Monday, April 14, 2008

extended thoughts on A-Day

I think this will possibly be the last blog you'll see with thoughts on A-Day in Tuscaloosa. As I said, we didn't stay at the actual game that long -- we don't get over to Tuscaloosa much anymore, so it seemed a shame to waste such a pretty day just sitting around watching a practice. But here are some things I did glean from what I did see ..
  • Alabama fans -- at least the ones sitting near me on Saturday -- are way, WAY too hard on John Parker Wilson. If memory serves, 14 missed on his first two throws, then couldn't find anybody open and threw his third pass out of bounds. You'd have thought the season was already over. It's unbelievable. Look, I'm not an apologist -- JPW was about as up-and-down in '07 as a quarterback can be (you can't get much more extreme in one season than Tennessee and Mississippi St/La.-Monroe). And, as we've discussed in this space and on the old LJ repeatedly, his pick-6 against State was and is The Single Worst College Football Play I've Ever Seen (it was so bad it needed capital letters). He was a mess by the end of the season. But let's give him some slack, if only because a) he's learning under his third OC in three years (a bigger deal than you think); b) he's practicing against his own first-team defense, which is not only (hopefully) really good -- they know all the plays since they've been practicing against it for three weeks. You never look good in an intra-squad -- your own defense always makes you look bad (look at what happened at Mississippi State). That's just the way it is.
  • By the same token, people touting the virtues of Greg McElroy should throw some water on themselves. Of course, everyone always wants to see the back-up quarterback -- it's an age-old phenomenon. But ask yourself this, though: if he's so damn wonderful, why didn't he get even a sniff of significant action in 2007, when John Parker looked bad enough that even his mother was embarrassed? Consider OTS, the most thorough of the 'Bama bloggers:
Greg McElroy looked "good" based on the standards that he had set in the first two scrimmages. He made a couple of nice throws, and by that I explicitly mean three or four. He didn't play particularly well, but he didn't look ungodly terrible, which is apparently how he performed in the first two scrimmages. Unfortunately, there's still not a lot of positives to talk about with him. He doesn't have a strong arm, he's not particularly accurate, and he holds onto the ball so long sometimes you would swear he's clinging to a life jacket in the middle of the Atlantic.
OTS was equally unimpressed with Nick Fanuzzi, who he calls "over his head." Just saying, you'll probably see John Parker in the #1 role when the offense takes the field in Atlanta this fall.

  • During the half we sat through in Bryant-Denny, a small group of boys ranging in age from 7-to-9 sat two rows behind us, making all sorts of loud, obnoxious noises, with no apparent adults anywhere to control them. I didn't mind them so much, but I got a laugh out of the thought that somewhere in the stadium -- possibly on the other side of the stadium -- sat a group of adults placidly enjoying a peaceful three hours, maybe even asleep.
  • More 'Bama offense: I never did see a stat line -- for God's sake, it's A-Day! -- but three things were impressive about Jim McElwain's offense at first glance: a) a number of different formations -- one-back, two tights, spread, off-set I, and so forth; b) the play of Earl Alexander, who caught several passes, including the Crimson's first TD (a fade over Kareem Jackson); c) Tide quarterbacks threw to their fleet of tight ends multiple times, a good sign for people like my dad, who maintains that "the tight end is always wide-open, no matter the play."
  • Defensively, Alabama stayed in a nickel look most of the game, something they're likely to do most of the season (in an effort to make up for lack of depth at linebacker). That's not a huge surprise -- Saban played nickel almost exclusively in 2007, also.
  • Druid has the most enduring image of the day, as two 'Bama DLs live the dream of so many Miami Dolphin fans.
  • Rapaport notes that Zeke Knight was a captain Saturday, a nice gesture, since he likely won't be cleared to play this fall.
  • Finebaum has the Tide going 8-4 this fall, with a win over Auburn, which should be nice. For what it's worth, here's what Alabama teams have done in Year 2 of a new head coach, since Bryant:
Bryant, 1959: 7-2-2 from 5-4-1.
Perkins, 1984: 5-6 from 8-4.
Curry, 1988: 9-3 from 7-5
Stallings, 1990: 11-1 from 7-5
DuBose, 1998: 7-5 from 4-7
Franchione, 2002: 10-3 from 7-5
Shula, 2004: 6-6 from 4-9

There's no hard and fast historical precedent, obviously, but Alabama teams typically improve -- if only slightly -- in the second season. The most dramatic improvement was Stallings', whose team actually won a national championship in his third season. But Stallings didn't have quite the rebuilding job given to some of the other coaches (Perkins and Franchione, inparticular, inherited programs that needed to be almost completely retooled, while Shula had to endure the worst probation since SMU in the mid-80s).

Of course, the great irony with A-Day is there's no way to know for sure exactly what Alabama will have in the fall based on the spring -- many of the players expected to make the biggest impact on the program have yet to reach campus. This Alabama program, as it's currently constructed, doesn't look particuarly good, as Cecil Hurt notes in his column.

Whether it will look better by Opening Day remains to be seen.


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