TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — There will be plenty to watch out for as Alabama wraps up its spring camp with its annual A-Day game at 2 p.m. inside Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday. The scrimmage, which will be televised on ESPN at 2 p.m., will be the public’s first and only look at the Crimson Tide before the fall.
How will the passing game shape up? What will Alabama’s early enrollees at running back look like? Will the secondary show improvement from past scrimmages? All those questions and more should be answered on Saturday.
Here are 10 players to keep your eye on during the game:
Jalen Hurts, quarterback
There’s been a lot of hype around Jalen Hurts and his improved passing performance this spring. Saturday, the rising sophomore will get the opportunity to add to that by demonstrating his maturity in the pocket on the big stage. Earlier this spring, Hurts said the game is slowing down for him. It will be interesting to not only watch his poise in the pocket but also his confidence throwing balls downfield.
“I think it’s night and day. He’s gotten so much better,” Alabama receiver Calvin Ridley said. “He sits in there and sometimes when I’m not in, and I look and he’s stepping up, making good throws. So, he’s gotten a lot better.”
Najee Harris, running back
Will Najee Harris live up to his No. 1 overall ranking? So far this spring, that answer has reportedly been a resounding yes. While no stats have been released from either of Alabama’s two scrimmages, Harris has drawn rave reviews from teammates, especially after he was said to have hurdled over a defender on three separate occasions.
“Yeah, that was my first time seeing something like that in real life,” Alabama receiver Cam Sims said.
Fellow running backs Bo Scarbrough and B.J. Emmons have been in black jerseys throughout the spring, and Damien Harris has not participated in the Tide’s practices after spraining his foot in the first scrimmage. All three will be on the sideline for A-Day, which should leave plenty of carries for Najee Harris.
Brian Robinson, running back
Often referred to as the “other running back” in Alabama’s 2017 class, Brian Robinson has proved he’s no slouch. The 6-foot-1, 218-pound back from Tuscaloosa will be eager to impress in front of his friends and family on Saturday. Robinson could be one of the surprises on A-Day as he looks to work his way into the Tide’s rotation the season.
“As a young guy, he was full of energy and fun to be around, loved playing football,” said Alabama linebacker Keith Holcombe who attended Hillcrest High School with Robinson. “That’s exactly what he’s brought here.”
Robert Foster, wide receiver
It seems like a long time since Robert Foster led Alabama in receiving during the first two games of the 2015 season. A shoulder injury sidelined him for the rest of that season. Last year he found himself buried on the Tide’s depth chart. Now that he’s once again projected as one Alabama’s starters at the position, Foster will work toward getting back to his previously stellar form on the field.
“I feel like he’s more experienced, he knows what he’s doing,” Alabama cornerback Anthony Averett said. “He’s still fast, he’s still a guy that you have to chase around just to keep your hands on him, so he’s great.”
T.J. Simmons, wide receiver
One of the biggest surprises this spring has been T.J. Simmons, who has seemingly shot up the Tide’s “rep chart” due to early performances. Despite failing to record a catch during his freshman season last year, Simmons has been one of the favorite targets during Alabama’s two scrimmages. According to Saban, the former four-star receiver registered seven receptions during the Tide’s first scrimmage, second to only Ridley, who had eight.
“T.J. has been doing real good this spring,” Ridley said. “He’s making big plays. But he’s always been like that. He’s young, but he’s ready.”
Trevon Diggs, cornerback
Speaking of surprises, there might be no bigger one this spring than Trevon Diggs, who made the switch to cornerback after serving primarily as a wide receiver during his freshman season last year. Saban originally said the decision to switch Diggs back to cornerback was an “experiment.” Although, after two strong performances in both of Alabama’s previous scrimmages, the rising sophomore appears poised to take over the cornerback spot across from Averett next season.
“I feel like he picked it up quicker than I did,” Averett said. “I was kind of similar to him, I played a lot of offense in high school and just transitioned to defense when I got here, so he's definitely taken that (move) very quickly, taken to it very well.
"He just makes plays on the ball. Sometimes you just have that knack, be natural at it, and that's what I feel like he has."
Isaiah Buggs, defensive end
Another player who has generated plenty of buzz on defense has been JUCO transfer Isaiah Buggs. The 6-foot-5, 292-pound defensive end was rated as the No. 1 JUCO player in this year’s class and was the first of Alabama’s 16 early enrollees to arrive on campus.
Earlier this spring, Buggs said his time at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College helped prepare him for the rigors of SEC football. Saturday, he will get to prove that as he looks to make life difficult for the Tide’s offense.
“He's very raw. He's a good player,” Alabama offensive lineman Bradley Bozeman said. “He's continued to grow as he's been in this program. As the season comes around, I think he'll be really ready.”
Christian Miller, linebacker
Alabama loses its top four sack leaders from last season in Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams, Ryan Anderson and Reuben Foster. This year, Christian Miller has been tabbed as one of the possible replacements to step into the role of the Tide’s next great pass-rusher.
Miller has transformed since coming to Alabama as a 6-foot-4, 205 pounds in 2014. Now the former four-star linebacker is up to 240 pounds and appears better equipped to handle more roles on the Tide’s defense. Whether one of those is as the Tide’s primary pass rusher is yet to be seen.
“Honestly, I think it could be a number of guys. It’s all together,” Miller said. “Right now we’ve probably got more athleticism than we’ve had in recent years, so I mean, honestly, I can’t tell who…Honestly, I don’t even know if we’re trying to compete against each other right now as to who is going to have more sacks. Whoever can get in and make a play is who is going to be playing.”
Terrell Hall, linebacker
Although the linebackers might not view playing time as a competition amongst themselves, one of the players working towards a starting role with Miller is rising sophomore, Terrell Hall. Listed at 6-5, 251 pounds, Hall is somewhat bigger than Miller and could compete with Anfernee Jennings, 6-foot-3, 265 pounds, on the opposite side.
“That’s probably as fierce as any battle on the team,” Miller said. “I think everybody is trying to get better and compete and find a role on this team.”
Hall has been lined up at both the Jack and Sam position this spring. It will be interesting to see how Alabama lines him up and what packages he is used in on Saturday.
Dylan Moses, linebacker
Dylan Moses has shot up the Tide’s rep chart this spring and was even seen practicing alongside Mack Wilson at inside linebacker in Alabama’s second-team defense out of the nickel formation. Despite being an early enrollee, Moses has the build of a three-year starter. The true freshman is listed at 6-foot-3, 234 pounds and reportedly recorded a 4.46 time in the 40-yard dash during Alabama’s spring workouts.
“First impression is he is an athletic guy. That is obvious," Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans said. “All it’s really going to take is him improving as a player, and once he does that, the sky’s the limit.”