Alabama held its annual spring game — also known as A-Day — on Saturday. It was fantastic to see the crowd at 47,000 people, the most for a sporting since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic at the beginning of last year.
But what did the Crimson Tide look like on the field?
Offensively, there are several starters being replaced, including at quarterback, running back, two wide receivers and three offensive linemen. Not only that, offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian is now at Texas, and several other assistants are gone as well.
Defensively, the unit returns a lot from 2020. The only problem is some of that returning talent wasn’t on display Saturday. Injuries prevented several stars, on both sides of the football, from participating. Impact players such as Malachi Moore, Will Anderson Jr. and Chris Allen were absent on defense.
That made the evaluation more difficult, but there are still several important takeaways. Here are some things that I liked — and didn’t like — from Saturday’s A-Day Game.
Things I Liked
1. Wide Receiver Depth
Alabama has lost an absurd amount of talent at wide receiver over the last two seasons. Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III were first-round talents back in 2019, and it’s likely DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle join them as Day 1 selections come April 29.
Still, there are plenty of pass-catching options in Tuscaloosa. True freshman Agiye Hall wasn’t named A-Day MVP, but he should have been after hauling in four catches for 72 yards. It might not seem like much, but 1) he was close to adding a couple more big plays and 2) you need to see the four catches to understand.
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) April 17, 2021
we’re going to have a conversation about agiye hall at some point, my friends. pic.twitter.com/unPW4yasVx
— sadly cooper (@StillRyanFive) April 17, 2021
Plus there was second-year receiver Traeshon Holden playing with the first-team offense. He brought in a game-high nine receptions for 89 yards. He’s the perfect big-bodied (6-foot-3, 208 pounds) X-receiver that can thrive in new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien’s offense.
There are still three ultra-talented first-year players — Jacorey Brooks, Christian Leary and JoJo Earle — who we didn’t get to see on Saturday. In addition, the team’s expected No. 1 option, John Metchie III, missed the spring due to injury. Alabama is going to be fine at wide receiver.
2. Emerging TE Not Named Billingsley
Jahleel Billingsley is projected to be one of college football’s top tight ends this upcoming season. At 6-4, 230 pounds, he isn’t the biggest, but he’s extremely athletic — even enough to return kicks for Alabama last season — and has shown plenty of receiving chops in Tuscaloosa.
Except on Saturday, it wasn’t Billingsley making the biggest contributions at tight end. It was converted outside linebacker/edge player Cameron Latu making the most noise. He only had two catches, but one of them went for 59 yards and a score. This now marked the third scrimmage where quarterback Bryce Young hit Latu for at least one score.
Bryce Young and Cameron Latu have now hooked up for touchdowns in each of Alabama’s three spring scrimmages. Connected for two in the first scrimmage, then one last week and now one already today. pic.twitter.com/yiQ1Q6iLT0
— Matt Zenitz (@mzenitz) April 17, 2021
It feels like Latu is finally getting comfortable after the position switch, and that is scary for the rest of the college football world. Why? Because Billingsley — and this slew of other pass-catchers — isn’t going anywhere. Options, options, options.
3. Young, Contributing Talent
Yes, Hall was the most noticeable true freshman on Saturday. When you play a glamorous position like receiver, that’s bound to happen. But there were plenty of other first-year players making eye-popping plays during the spring game.
Five-star cornerback Ga’Quincy “Kool-Aid” McKinstry had an interception, a pass breakup and a fumble recovery. He showed plenty of potential to eventually emerge as a lockdown corner, which is why it isn’t surprising to see him already working with the second-team defense.
There was also off-ball linebacker Deontae Lawson. With Christian Harris sitting out, the former top-50 prospect got the start next to Jaylen Moody with the first-team defense. There were a few hiccups — especially in coverage — but Lawson showed plenty of promise too. Whether it was tackling the ball-carrier or breaking up passes.
We also got to see plenty of others such as Ian Jackson, JC Latham and Tommy Brockermeyer. The future is bright for this young core from arguably the top college football recruiting class of all time.
Things I Didn’t Like
1. Kicking Woes Return
Alabama fans are used to seeing kickers struggle. It’s something that has plagued the Crimson Tide ever since Nick Saban’s arrival back in 2007 — and probably even before that. But 2020 provided a glimmer of hope for the kicking game in Tuscaloosa.
After missing most of his freshman season in 2019 with a hip injury, Hoover (Ala.) product Will Reichard was fantastic in 2020. In fact, he was perfect — literally. He converted all 14 of his field goal attempts while also connecting on all 84 of his the extra point tries. It’s a big reason why he was a finalist for the Lou Groza Award.
Well, Saturday was the return of the kicking woes. Reichard attempted five field goals, missing three of them. His first miss was from 52 yards out, so that wasn’t overly concerning. But the following two missed attempts, from 48 and 33 yards, are cause for some worry.
It could’ve just been a bad day for the former top kicking prospect in the nation, or it could be something that holds the Tide back come the fall. The good news is Reichard did kick the game-winning field goal with the pressure on, a sign of a bounce-back.
2. Quarterback Depth
It is looking like Alabama is going to have back-to-back first-round quarterbacks in Tua Tagovailoa and now Mac Jones. At this point, it’s even likely that both of them end up being top-10 — and maybe even top-5 picks — before it’s all said and done.
Despite that lost talent, Saban and company have brought in top high school prospects as potential replacement options. Bryce Young, the nation’s No. 2 overall prospect in the 2020 class, is the projected starter, and he had some great moments on Saturday.
Young completed 25 of his 44 pass attempts for 333 yards and a score. There were some accuracy issues early, but he settled down and looked solid for the most part. Granted, he wasn’t close to perfect, but it’s easy to see how he can be that next star quarterback donning Crimson.
The problem is the depth behind him. Paul Tyson struggled, completing 18 of his 34 pass attempts for 171 yards. Walk-on Braxton Barker, the son of former Alabama star Jay Barker, threw two interceptions with only eight attempts. There were a few solid moments for both guys, but only a few.
So who ends up being the No. 2 guy behind Young? Well, it might have to be true freshman Jalen Milroe. He was held out of the spring game, but he’s a top-100 prospect who was rated as the nation’s No. 4 dual-threat quarterback, according to the 247Sports Composite Rankings. We’ll see.
Follow Clint Lamb on Twitter @ClintRLamb.