A-DAY gives fans first look

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The University of Alabama A-Day game has draw quite a range of responses from fans and critics alike for the 92,138 fans that turned out to pack the stadium and set a national record for spring practice attendance.

For fans the record turnout shows their pride in the school&8217;s program. To the national media the turnout symbolizes a group clinging to the days of yore when Alabama was a forced to be reckoned with. To me it showed that fans were starved for information about the direction of the program after the ascension of Nick Saban to the football throne.

Saban has been admittedly closed lipped about the team&8217;s practices, which are closed to the public, and what the depth charts will look like after his initiated, every man must re-earn his spot, policy. Players and assistant coaches haven&8217;t been much help shedding light on the team&8217;s performance, due to Saban&8217;s restriction of the group&8217;s media exposure. What has been said about the team by those under the new, elusive, coach appears to have been carefully censored under the watchful eye of the mystery man himself.

Email newsletter signup

All of this has compounded to add to the mystique of the program and the team&8217;s direction, something Alabama fans are not used to happening. They are used to holding the reigns of their commander in chief in recent years, and a man like Saban, who said in his initial press conference that the team and coaches had a job, the fans and alums have a job and the two groups need to focus on their side and leave the others alone, is a far cry from the passive coach to which they have grown accustomed.

So I was not surprised in the least bit when I arrived at Bryant-Denny Stadium last Saturday a half hour before kickoff and found the lower levels were closed as they had reached capacity. Well let me be more specific, I was surprised the lower levels were closed before the game, but I was expecting a sold out crowd.

One bright spot in the fact that I had to look to higher ground for seating is that I finally got to check out the new end zone expansion. Of course after walking the seemingly infinite amount of steps to the top of the stadium (a mere ten rows from the pinnacle) I got a Goodyear blimp view of the field (something I am not accustomed to after attending the school and receiving the sweet student seating).

As the game started I, and the other 92,137 fans in the stadium, watched with eager anticipation for some sign that the money spent on buying out Shula and paying the hefty price tag for Saban was not a practice in futility. I was not disappointed.

While spring games aren&8217;t know for their flash or even really giving a good indicator of the team&8217;s ability against opposing schools during the upcoming fall schedule, there were some highlights that I took away from the game.

First and most important after the Shula era, Saban was on the field during the practice getting in players faces, rather than watching complacently from the sidelines. He was involved in every play and critiqued the team as it progressed down the field.

Another highlight was the small section of the playbook that was shown during the scrimmage. Though only a small portion was used to prevent opposing teams from getting too much information on the new scheme prior to the season, what I saw showed vast improvement from predictable Shula offense.

One of the first plays was a run up the middle that fans have grown accustomed to seeing under the previous coach. I even heard a &8220;here we go again&8221; moan from a guy decked out in crimson behind me, but the play calling wouldn&8217;t rely solely on up the gut runs and desperation throws.

Saban&8217;s offense would run shuttle passes, sweeps to the corners and delay handoffs that allow for play action to be used more effectively when John Parker Wilson is directed to go to the air. Speaking of which, Wilson showed what a year of playing time does for a young quarterback as he went to the air on deep routs and slants, though he only completed around 50 percent of his passes on the afternoon.

A sign that the offense might be even more sophisticated was one play set up by the use of slants. On the play Wilson dumped the ball over the line to the running back who had rolled off a block and was in the dead zone between a blitzing linebacker core and defensive backs. Two receivers crossing on slants then converted to blockers to help get yards after the catch.

On the defensive side there isn&8217;t much to point out. It is a building process and the backs had some troubles. The new line package set up by Saban, with a jack linebacker that plays a cross between defensive end and linebacker seemed to cause some disruptions, but the improved offensive line seemed to handle themselves well.

On the whole there isn&8217;t a lot you can take out of a spring scrimmage, especially in regards to the performance of two units that struggled last year, since neither is of a caliber that one can rank the other against. But discipline looked better than it has in years, the coach seems passionate and I cannot tell you every play the offense will run prior to the snap, all of which bode well for the Tide. Though fans might not have gotten the definite answers they were looking for they did come away with some positive news to disperse to the crimson nation.

Brandon Glover is the sports editor of The Demopolis Times. He can be reached at e-mail brandon.glover@demopolis times.com.