Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Early Notes from Alabama's Fall Camp

Alright, alright, I'm back. Hopefully, you'll forgive me for being absent during the 2nd most exciting time of year: the opening of fall camp. I know its bad. Even worse, I was in pagan Seminole Country. They're pretty psyched up about their team this year over at FSU. Not sure I'm totally buying into the Christian Ponder hype, though. Anyway, Doak Campbell Stadium is a beautiful facility, but what is up with THIS...

This is supposed to represent "Sportsmanship."

But you don't come here for my FSU commentary, do you? Let's talk about the defending National Champions. And, of course, the #1 thing people are always interested in at the start of camp is the roster: which freshmen didn't make it, which returning players...aren't returning, who has switched positions, etc.

On that front, two names made the most headlines this past week: sophomore safety Rod Woodson and incoming freshman Blake Sims. I guess we'll start with the bad news.

At the opening press conference of fall camp, Coach Saban announced a mutually agreed upon decision for Woodson to leave the program. I would guess it was "mutually agreed upon" in the sense that Saban phrased it like a question. "You're going to need to get outta here, a'ight?"

This wasn't much of a surprise to those in the know. Contrary to what the tin foil hats at a certain website might want you to believe, Woodson's exit wasn't a last second decision to cast off dead weight and free up space for incoming freshmen. In fact, Woodson's position is THE spot on the team where Bama can absolutely NOT take any losses. Woodson's departure now leaves only two eligible scholarship safeties with game experience on the roster for the 2010 season. Depth at that position is now relegated to walk-ons and true freshmen. Woodson wasn't going to start over Mark Barron or Robert Lester, but this is definitely a blow and makes the injury situation in the secondary even more precarious.

In truth, this had been in the offing for about a week. Much like ex-Tide DB and fellow Mississippian Alonzo Lawrence, Woodson had been in and out of the doghouse for the duration of his short stay in Tuscaloosa. Roughly a week before camp opened, a rumor began circulating about Woodson and two other players getting into trouble for setting off fireworks in a dorm and that it was Woodson's "last straw." I had good sources on it, and I almost posted about it, but ultimately decided it would be too hurtful to the players, especially if it turned out to not be true. This isn't going to be one of those no-accountability, rumor-mongering blogs. I won't run any story unless I'm highly confident in its veracity. So I held off on this.

And now we know it's true. I'm still holding off on naming the other two players out of respect. But they're out there on the net, somewhere. You probably won't even have to look that hard.

Long story short on Woodson: Its a bad break for the Tide secondary, Woodson has lost out on a major opportunity (he's apparently landed at North Alabama), and maybe Saban should stop recruiting defensive backs from Mississippi. One name to look out for to replace Woodson on the depth chart is walk-on Will Lowery. He got a lot of work in the spring, and coaches seems impressed with his knowledge of the defense.

Now for the good news. Freshman athlete Blake Sims put in the work to get eligible for the 2010 season, and, after some talk that he might have to greyshirt and enroll in the January, he was rewarded with a spot on the fall roster. Sims played quarterback at Gainesville, GA, but the expectation was that he would either play wide receiver or, more likely given the depth issues, defensive back at Bama. Well, surprise, surprise, Sims opened up camp doing individual drills with the quarterbacks. Though curiously, he did not wear the traditional black no-contact jersey for quarterbacks. So the assumption was that he was putting in work at another position as well, but where? The answer, at least one of them: running back.

So let's do the math on that. We've got an athletic high school quarterback working out at both quarterback and running back. I smell a new wrinkle to Bama's Wildcat package. At this point in Alabama's development under Coach Saban, you shouldn't expect many freshman to see the field, but if Sims picks up on the system quickly, this could be a very exciting development. He's a dynamic athlete, and the one thing Bama lacked in the Wildcat last season was a legitimate passing threat that didn't involve razzle-dazzling it back to the QB.

One thing the early utilization of Sims tells me is that, despite all the hand-wringing, the coaching staff feels good about where they are in terms of depth in the secondary. If they're not throwing EVERY available body at the situation, it shows some degree of confidence, however small that degree. I only hope this doesn't turn out to be a BJ Scott situation where you blow a year of eligibility experimenting with offense or a Mark Barron situation where you get too overzealous with a great athlete and end up overloading his brain with too many positions in his first year. I'm sure I'll be following Sims' story as camp continues.

Elsewhere, 3 freshmen ended up taking greyshirts: tight end Harrison Jones, defensive lineman Wilson Love, and wide receiver Ronald Carswell. Those make sense, as they all project at positions where Bama is very solid on depth this season and were likely headed for redshirts anyway. Although I was somewhat surprised to hear about Carswell, who had generated somewhat of a buzz during summer drills and even earned praise from Greg McElroy at SEC Media Days.

And to the surprise of none, incoming freshman cornerback Deion Belue failed to qualify. At this point, it's uncertain what route he's heading from here.

So that's the situation with the roster. All's well on the injury front. The only casualty thus far has been freshman safety Kendall Kelly who is being held out due to "heat issues." Keep your fingers crossed for another mostly injury-free camp. The injury bug definitely seems to be biting in Knoxville and Tallahassee.

There's really not going to be much else to report until two-a-days kick into full gear (they started today) and we hit the first scrimmage (this Saturday). I always look forward to the mysterious scrimmage stats and the tea leaf reading that ensues.

Until then, you can check out scenes from Alabama's fall camp on ESPN's All-Access. I believe its on every night this week on ESPNU at 7eastern. I missed last night's premiere episode, but I'll definitely be watching tonight.

Oh, and I'm revising the Marcell Dareus over/under down to a 2 game suspension. POSITIVITY ABOUNDS.


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