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April 19, 2010

Upon Futher Review: A-Day

TUSCALOOSA _ If there's one thing University of Alabama fans knew for sure going into A-Day it's that the Crimson Tide was set at running back.

Mark Ingram, last year's Heisman Trophy winner, had a 60-yard carry while Trent Richardson scored on a 28-yard touchdown pass. Eddie Lacy and Demetrius Goode also impressed and scored touchdowns.

However, spring football isn't primarily about what you know, but what you don't. Like specifically with those players how much Richardson improved reading defenses and picking up blitzers. Those are the kinds of things that will allow him to spell Ingram more next season.

"It doesn't matter, whatever helps this team wins," Ingram said about potentially having less production. "He needs the ball."

Ingram had nine carries for 90 yards and four receptions for 31 yards, for 121 all-purpose yards. Richardson finished with eight carries for 22 yards, three catches for 63 yards for a 95 total. Had he caught the improvised pass early on, when he slid into open space and A.J. McCarron eventually found him, they might have had nearly identical production.

Overall, Saturday was dominated by the pass as the Crimson and White squads combined for 44 carries and 68 passes. Factor in the 11 sacks, recorded as runs, and the seven times quarterbacks took off out of the pocket and the 26 to 86 ratio was more accurate.

Although fans hoped to see the explosive offense they had been hearing about, coaches kept things simple. There were no deep balls thrown toward Julio Jones, the tight ends had zero receptions and just three passes were attempted in the red zone (one completed).

Ingram had two explosive runs (13 yards or more), and the Crimson passing game had two (17 or more) as well. For the White, there were no explosive runs but six passes, two thrown by Star Jackson.

Take away Brandon Gibson and the two leading receivers were Ingram and Richardson.

"Our check-downs have always been a staple of our offense," quarterback Greg McElroy said. "Trent, Mark or Eddie, Demetrius any of those guys, if you get the ball in their hands they will make plays for you.

"Everyone oohs and aahs at the long passes, but if you average four yards per carry everyone says you have a great running game and if you throw a four-yard completion to the running back - which is essentially a segmentation of the running game - it can add up pretty quick."

So what did Alabama learn Saturday?

The Tide has more toughness, talent and speed than a year ago, more players who are ready to contribute, and despite replacing nine starters the defense's potential is enormous, especially among the front seven.

"Last year we were good but I think this year we can be better," Ingram said. "We have a lot of talent all over the field, young guys that are hungry trying to prove themselves, and older players that know what they are doing and what it takes to win. I think once we mesh all that together we should be all right."

Player of the game: Although Ingram was named game MVP, media voting for the award was conducted at the end of the third quarter. Gibson had six catches for 107 yards in the fourth quarter to finish with eight catches for 142 yards.

Play of the game: Even though it technically came after regulation, Gibson's 39-touchodwn pass from McCarron was the difference. Too bad ESPN had already cut away.

Hit of the game: With about 3:23 before halftime, when Jones caught 5-yard pass, linebacker Dont'a Hightower popped right tackle D.J. Fluker so hard that the massive right tackle landed back on his rear. Two honorable mentions, on the Crimson's first snap when Ingram ran over cornerback B.J. Scott only to get drilled by safety Mark Barron, and linebacker Jalston Fowler for his hard hit on reserve running back Ben Howell to force an incompletion late in the scrimmage.

Statistic of the game: The Crimson converted just 1 of 10 third-down opportunities and was 0-for-2 on fourth downs. The White was 2-for-15, but 3-for-3 on fourth downs.

Did you notice? The lone senior on the first-unit defense was defensive end Luther Davis. The only one playing with the second unit was linebacker Chavis Williams.

Here are 10 things you may not have noticed about A-Day:

1. Quarterbacks: McElroy was 12-of-22 for 142 yards and only went deep twice, one for the lone turnover, the other for a touchdown (more about that later). He completed passes to five receivers, had three dropped and threw two away. He completed 2-of-3 passes on third downs, converting one, was 0-for-2 on fourth downs and overthrew Julio Jones on his lone red-zone attempt. McCarron was 12-of-28 for 196 yards. He completed 3 of 10 passes on third down, one for a first down, and completed his only attempt on fourth down for the winning touchdown. Jackson was 6-of-11 for 100 yards, his longest completion was a 30-yard sideline toss to Gibson and threw a great pass on Goode's 25-yard touchdown. He was 0-for-2 on third downs, 1-for-1 on fourth downs and didn't have a red-zone pass. Phillip Sims deserved better than his 1-for-7 stat line. His receivers dropped two, another was stripped away and Dareus probably should have been credited with a sack on another. He showed good poise, though, on his completion with blitzing Barron in his face.

2. Wide Receivers: Gibson had the longest reception on a pretty 41-yard over-the-shoulder pass from McCarron to set up the game-tying field goal. His performance was even more impressive after splitting time at safety this spring and looked to him eight times during the fourth quarter. In comparison, the quarterback attempted three passes to Kenny Bell, two to Howell and one to Smelley. Of them, only Howell had a reception, 10 yards on a dump off. Jones finished with three catches for 15 yards, but had two drops and a ball seemingly knocked away.

3. Tight ends: Credit our own Travis Reier who when seeing Brad Smelley lined up in the wildcat formation immediately called it the "Smelley Cat." It was a fan favorite, but don't expect to see it again in the near future because Smelley probably doesn't run there. Michael Williams had four balls thrown his way and Smelley three, with no completions. Preston Dial had a nice block in Lacy's touchdown.

4. Offensive line: Fluker was thrown into the fire and faced either Dareus (who gave everyone fits) or Hightower on nearly every play. He had some trouble with stunts and got beat wide by Alex Watkins on his sack, but it's easy to see his potential. For example, on Ingram's 60-yard run he made the sealing block, Kellen Williams made the lead block, Marquis Maze tied up cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and Darius Hanks had the downfield block after Ingram made defensive back Will Lowery miss. Ingram's 14- and 11-yard runs came running behind left guard Chance Warmack.

5. Defensive line: To state the obvious, Dareus appears poised for a huge season. The way he shed Fluker to make the first tackle for a loss was extremely impressive and set the tone for the day. The sack he was credited with was more of a coverage sack, but Dareus went through two linemen to reach the quarterback. The 12-yard loss at the end of the first half led to a missed field goal, which could have been the difference in the scrimmage. That 15 players, including six linemen, were in on a tackle for a loss speaks volumes to the unit's potential.

6. Linebackers: Both Jerrell Harris and Courtney Upshaw looked terrific coming off the edges, and Hightower's moving up to the line as a pass-rusher created problems for the first-team offense. Just imagine what it'll be like for opposing quarterbacks when they all start moving around. Nico Johnson had a bit of a long day, but finished with six tackles while calling the plays for Crimson. He bit on the Smelley Cat, with Richardson getting open behind him, and couldn't keep up with Goode on his touchdown, although not too many linebackers could.

7. Defensive backs: Kirkpatrick had an interception, broke up two passes and had an impressive open-field tackle on Ingram after a short pass. He and Scott, who had five tackles, appear to have locked up the starting cornerback jobs. As for the true freshmen, John Fulton could have been called for pass interference once or twice but appeared to be ahead of DeMarcus Milliner and broke up two passes. Phelon Jones rotated with Milliner and Fulton, but had just one tackle. At safety, Robert Lester led all players with eight tackles and Barron did a little bit of everything including blitz. Meanwhile, Rod Woodson led the Crimson defense with six tackles, tying Johnson. Depth will remain an issue, which will also directly affect the money and star positions.

8. Kick units: Cade Foster has the leg, evidenced by his drilling the second-half kickoff through the end zone, and Jeremy Shelley is known for his accuracy. Both went 1 for-2 and had to be a little taken aback about kicking in front of 91,000 fans. The coverage unit included Foster, Richardson, Gibson, Kirkpatick, Upshaw, Petey Smith, Lester, Lowery, Chavis Williams, Fowler, Wesley Neighbors and Milliner. Lacy later replaced Richardson. The return unit included Goode, Chavis Williams, Smelley, Harris, Lester and Lowery up front, with Michael Williams, Undra Billingsley and Preston Dial in the middle. Among those lining up deep included Scott, Maze, Jones and Richardson, while Kevin Norwood, Bell and Hanks at least warmed up to do so.

9.Punt units: Competition at punter will pick up in the fall. Smelley appears to have replaced Cory Reamer as the signal caller. Players we saw on coverage included long-snapper Carson Tinker, Chris Underwood, Upshaw, Goode, Kirkpatrick, Woodson, Harris and Kendall Kelly. Returns included many of same players with Jones, Scott, Ingram, Milliner, Fulton and Maze fielding punts. McCarron was the primary holder.

10. Penalties: Steve Shaw, whom may consider to be one of the best referees in college football, headed the crew at his alma mater (which is why he can never officiate a real Crimson Tide game), but pretty much let everything go. The first flag, for intentional grounding, was prompted by Nick Saban. There was only one other penalty, a false start, and the flag for Tyler Love holding was picked up. Neighbors should have been called for pass interference on the ball thrown to Bell in the end zone. Maze's pretty touchdown catch shouldn't have counted as it appeared he didn't get a foot down in bounds, but the crew made the correct call on the busted play McCarron tried to throw to Richardson. He hadn't crossed the line of scrimmage, but it was close.


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