Don’t be April Fooled by first scrimmage
By Jess Nicholas Editor-in-Chief
April 2, 2009

It’s fitting that Alabama held its first scrimmage of the spring on April 1, because spring scrimmages can make many people into April Fools.

Drawing too much from any scrimmage is a dangerous risk. Part of it is the nature of a scrimmage. For every touchdown pass a quarterback throws, it means the defensive backfield yielded one. For every sack a defensive end records, there’s an offensive lineman left in his wake.

Alabama has several small holes to fill as spring begins, and a couple of big ones. The positions of note are safety, right guard, quarterback and left tackle, but Brandon Fanney’s suspension adds Jack linebacker to the mix. Wednesday’s scrimmage answered some questions and left others unanswered.

Perhaps no position battle draws fan attention like one that involves quarterbacks, and this year is no exception. And judging from first-day stats, it’s a job that appears to have gotten off to a very one-sided start.

Junior Greg McElroy put up stats that far outclassed those of redshirt freshman Star Jackson or sophomore Thomas Darrah. McElroy threw four touchdown passes, completed 66.7% of his passes and threw for a total of 214 yards. Jackson and Darrah together were 16-of-36 for 106 yards and 4 picks.

But that’s where spring can fool you. A large chunk of McElroy’s yardage came against the second-team defense, while Jackson, as the top backup, drew the short straw and faced the No. 1 defense most of the day.

Still, it would be folly to dismiss McElroy’s numbers. The only disturbing line among his stats were two interceptions; McElroy was prone to interceptions last spring, too. It’s something he’ll have to continue to work on heading into the fall.

Practice observers in the days leading up to the scrimmage gave McElroy a slight edge over Jackson and Darrah, but were quick to point out that each of the three looked better than the other two depending on the day and the drill. While McElroy did the equivalent of getting a perfect hole shot in drag racing Wednesday, he still has to make it to the finish line without blowing up.

Elsewhere, James Carpenter appeared to be on the verge of locking up left tackle, at least for the spring. Incoming freshman D.J. Fluker may have something to say about this battle come August.

Right guard appears to be, as some believed, the real linchpin spot during spring. There are several candidates for the job with no clear front-runner, although most expect John Michael Boswell to eventually wrap it up.

At safety, Alabama tried several players there in the first scrimmage. This is a fight that might very well continue into the season, which would not be good news. Alabama needs a leader to step up there as soon as possible. Ali Sharrief, Mark Barron and Robby Green are the candidates.

On the plus side, both lines of scrimmage, overall, figure to be stout. Many observers say this could be one of the best years for line-of-scrimmage depth in some time.

A-Day isn’t very far off, but even A-Day won’t resolve most of these questions. Still, for a first scrimmage, Wednesday’s effort was one of Alabama’s better performances in several years. That’s a sign that Nick Saban’s turnaround strategy is working.