TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It’s been such a long spring for the University of Alabama football team that finals are already approaching to mark the end of the semester.
With the team playing in its third straight College Football Playoff, an early spring break and Nick Saban preferring not to hold any practices during Easter weekend, Alabama stretched out its spring schedule, which will culminate with the annual A-Day on Saturday.
Here are some of the things fans will be keeping an eye on during 1 of just 2 open workouts this year (the other being Fan Day at the start of training camp in roughly 3 months):
The talk of the spring has been Alabama’s offense, specifically the passing game. For the first time since 2013, the Crimson Tide don’t have a new starting quarterback, but there’s a new offensive coordinator.
Brian Daboll, the former tight ends coach of the New England Patriots, is expected to employ a more diverse attack and incorporate some NFL-style elements, but the key to any offensive development is Jalen Hurts.
Now a sophomore, both teammates and former players see someone with better decision-making and more comfortable in running the offense. This will be Hurts’ (and Alabama’s) first time playing publicly since completing 13 of 31 passes for 131 yards against Clemson.
“He’s really stepped up as a leader,” junior guard Ross Pierschbacher said. “Vocally, he’s become more of a leader even in this offseason just leading us in the huddle or the sideline telling us the direction that we want to go. I think he’s got a really good relationship with Coach Daboll which has shown. They’ll be messing around and joking around. I think it’s made him play looser and really learn the offense. It’s been helpful for us.”
Between early enrollees and junior college transfers, Alabama had 16 new players this spring, easily the most ever in program history.
While the only one who might have walked into a starting job was long-snapper Thomas Fletcher, numerous players are already making serious challenges for playing time, including defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs and wide receiver Jerry Jeudy.
This will be the first opportunity for most to see the recruiting Class of 2017 in action, and the buzz is twofold. Quarterbacks always draw a lot of attention, and Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones are slated to be the only backups to Hurts this fall. But fans are also eager to see if players like running back Najee Harris, tackle Alex Leatherwood and linebacker Dylan Moses match their recruiting hype.
The other newcomers expected to play for the first time in an Alabama jersey are Xavier McKinney, Tyrell Shavers, Daniel Wright, Brian Robinson, Chadarius Townsend, Elliot Baker, Major Tennison and Kyriq McDonald. Townsend came in as a running back, but has spent the spring with the wide receivers.
Fans who watched last year’s A-Day remember seeing linebacker Tim Williams terrorize the quarterbacks so much that the final score ended up being 7-3. Don’t expect a similar score this year as Alabama probably will focus on the passing aspect of the game, both offensively and defensively.
In addition to Williams, Alabama must replace everyone who had more than 5 sacks last season (Jonathan Allen, Ryan Anderson and Reuben Foster).
Senior linebacker Rashaan Evans is a given as a pass rusher, as is outside linebacker Christian Miller, but the coaches have numerous other options for pass rushers.
“Honestly, I think it could be a number of guys,” Miller said. “It’s all together.”
Alabama fans got a taste of Diggs’ versatility last year when he made 11 catches for 88 yards and 1 touchdown as a freshman wide receiver, but he also saw action returning punts and kicks.
Specifically, he returned 7 kickoffs for 166 yards to average 23.7 yards, and 13 punt returns for 130 yards with a long of 47.
Diggs spent the spring at cornerback, and considering his 6-foot-2 frame and athleticism, he not only might be the next Cyrus Jones, but potentially an even better pro prospect.
“He’s a real good football player, a real athlete, so I knew he could do it,” junior wide receiver Calvin Ridley said.
Ever since a then-capacity 92,138 fans showed up at Bryant-Denny Stadium (which has since been renovated) for Nick Saban’s first A-Day in 2007, the spring scrimmage has been a staple for fans regardless of whether the Crimson Tide are coming off a national championship.
Last year’s scrimmage drew 76,212, when Alabama was coming off a national title. Each of the last five A-Days have attracted between 73,506 (2014) and 78,526 (2012) fans except for the 2015 game (65,175).
The forecast is for rain and possible thunderstorms later in the day.
Date: Saturday, April 21
Time: 3 p.m. ET
Location: Bryant-Denny Stadium
Weather: According to the Weather Channel as of Friday morning, the forecast is for scattered showers and thunderstorms, 15 percent chance of rain at gametime, 86 degrees and 10-15 mph winds.
ESPN will have the 2-hour broadcast.
Joe Tessitore, Kirk Herbstreit, Joey Galloway and Laura Rutledge will call the game from field level.
WatchESPN or on the Watch ESPN mobile app.
Format: The roster is split into 2 teams, Crimson vs. White. It’ll be the first-team offense against the first-team defense, with the reserve units facing one another as well. It’s a game-like scrimmage with tackling except on special teams.
Traffic: Fans attending are encouraged to go early, and keep in mind 3 problem areas:
Schedule: Weather permitting, the festivities include:
9 a.m. (ET): Fan Fest opens next to Bryant-Denny Stadium, including special trophy tent and former players signing autographs.
12:30 p.m.: Alumni flag football game at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
1:15 p.m.: The Walk of Fame ceremony at Denny Chimes.
1:50 p.m.: The walk of champions.
3 p.m.: A-Day kickoff.
Halftime: A dodgeball game on the field featuring former Alabama players.
Postgame: Awards ceremony on the field. Fans will subsequently be given field access.
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