- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Camp formally ended for the Crimson Tide on Monday when the fall semester began on the University of Alabama campus. And while studies have gotten in the way of the early morning practices and two-a-days players had become accustomed to, the mood of preseason camp lingered for much of the week, as players fought to climb the depth chart and position changes remained in effect.
Preparation for Virginia Tech didn't begin until Thursday afternoon, when the second half of the brief media viewing portion of practice came with the condition that cameras not film the proceedings. For the first time, there was something coaches weren't willing to show the outside world.
But even so, there was plenty to report, and in the final edition of Alabama Intel we'll try to do just that.
The arrest and suspension of Geno Smith and the return of Trey DePriest from his own week-long hiatus continued to make waves on the roster, as both regular first-team contributors watched much of the action from afar, relegated to some rung of the depth chart lower than second- or third-team. DePriest stood to the side during some inside linebacker drills, looking on as Tana Patrick and others took his place. And Smith, for the first time in a long time, ran with an entirely different group of defensive backs than he'd become accustomed to -- the scout team.
It was no matter to safety Jarrick Williams, who took over for Smith as the first-team nickel back, or "star" as UA coach Nick Saban calls the position. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound junior, who missed all of last season recovering from an ACL tear, has played there before but never with the starters. But as Saban said following Tuesday's practice, Williams has had a "fantastic camp" and "really feels comfortable and confident in what he's doing." With a good build and good quickness, Williams could flourish at the position.
Vinnie Sunseri, Nick Perry and Landon Collins could play some star as well. In the secondary, there are plenty of combinations to be had. Jai Miller might be working his way into that mix, too. According to reports, the former professional baseball player turned walk-on safety at UA shadowed Collins at the dime cornerback position, or "money" as Saban calls it. He might not be ready for first-team reps yet, but the physical tools are all there. It's a matter of how well he picks up the system and deals with the learning curve of being away from the game for a decade.
Collins, though, could be in for a big Year 2. The former five-star recruit played well on special teams as a freshman and likely will begin this season at money. But he could wind up pushing to start opposite Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at safety, according to Saban.
"He finally is comfortable and confident in what he's supposed to do," Saban said. "He's played really well, especially this fall camp. ... He's one of our best safeties, as well."
Another notable move was that of former offensive lineman Brandon Greene to tight end. Saban was positive about the change following Saturday's scrimmage, saying, "He certainly can do the blocking part," while noting that he has a ways to go in the passing game. After watching him take reps at the position, he's a step slow, but he doesn't have bad hands. Should he drop some weight, we could start seeing the athleticism we've heard about from the staff.
Greene's move and Malcolm Faciane's return from suspension cleared the way for LaMichael Fanning to return to defensive end, where he's much better suited. He's a freak on the football field, with great size and great running ability, but his hands weren't where they needed to be to play on offense. Saban said he has liked what he has seen from Fanning since returning to defense, and it's been reflected in practice. He's undoubtably the most athletic defensive end on the roster, but as we've noted before, the question is whether or not he can get a strong grasp of the defense and play well within the scheme.
The biggest change in practice is one that likely will never have to be played out in a serious way on the football field, though. Because, barring injury, Alabama's backup quarterbacks won't play many meaningful snaps this season. If they do, UA is in trouble.
Blake Sims is the clear-cut No. 2 quarterback, but it's hard to believe someone so inconsistent passing the football would be given the reins in a long-term scenario. And while it seemed like it has been Alec Morris' job to lose, since he's the second most experienced quarterback on the roster, lately it has looked like walk-on Luke Del Rio is vying for the third quarterback spot as a freshman, coming in ahead of Cooper Bateman and Parker McLeod.
The one thing that didn't change -- or more appropriately changed back -- was the offensive line tasked with protecting the quarterbacks. A week after seeing Arie Kouandjio moved outside to tackle and Austin Shepherd shifted inside to guard, the two ended their experiments and resumed their regular duties at left guard and right tackle, respectively.
Simply put, with Virginia Tech looming, it felt like time to get the starting five settled so they could begin to establish the chemistry necessary for any offensive line to thrive. Saban said as much on Thursday when he told reporters that the line was ultimately more comfortable with its typical setup. And with the brothers Kouandjio manning the left side, Ryan Kelly solidly at center and Anthony Steen alongside Shepherd at right guard, Alabama looks to be in good shape.
3dEdward Aschoff and Alex Scarborough
3dAlex Scarborough and Greg Ostendorf