- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Not even self-reported secondary violations could slow down the Alabama football program as it went through the second week of fall practice. The report, which detailed 27 violations across the athletic department, grabbed headlines, but lacked the bite likely to draw attention from the NCAA.
What happened was minor by any measure of the word. Secondary violations are a way of life at any program, no matter how large or small. The misdeeds by the football program included a few errant text messages and a misbegotten Facebook friend request -- harmless by today's standards.
The report was a mere blip on the radar as coach Nick Saban's football program inched closer to the start of the season, where the Crimson Tide will rank in the top two in both major polls. But a Week 1 date against Michigan could catapult UA into the top spot.
What we know heading into the showdown against Denard Robinson and the rest of the Wolverines is, in fact, very little, in terms of the actual game plan. And it's meant to be that way. Saban and the staff have kept things close to the vest.
With another week in the books, here's some of what we do know, as well as a few things we're still looking for:
Barrett Jones wasn't done with college after putting an Outland Trophy on his bedroom dresser. A second BCS Championship couldn't deter him either. The former left tackle turned down the NFL for a fifth year at the Capstone because he felt like there was still work to be done. "It will be there next year," he told TideNation, "Hopefully it will be."
By all accounts, the move to center has gone well. Former Alabama center William Vlachos said, "There's not a better guy in the world to handle it than Barrett." The two remain close friends even with Vlachos in camp with the Tennessee Titans.
Alabama remains tight-lipped about its plans against Michigan. Player after player came into the media room and brought up the Wolverines, but wouldn't divulge any secrets. Defensive end Damion Square said the Tide are experiencing "talent overload" and that "some of the guys are a secret." With so many spots to fill, we won't know what the Crimson Tide look like until Week 1 in Arlington, Texas. For now, we're left to watch and wonder.
Tight end Michael Williams is ready to expand his role on offense. The stellar pass-blocker wants to model his game after two of the NFL's best: Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham. Williams has looked good in practice of late and certainly possesses the size and athleticism to dominate linebacker and safeties. In four years at Alabama he hasn't been able to turn it into many touchdowns and receptions. But there's reason for hope in 2012. The redshirt senior could fill the void left behind when H-Back Brad Smelley graduated to the NFL.
Jalston Fowler may line up alongside Williams before it's all said and done. The running back out of Mobile, Ala., has tried his hand at H-Back in recent practices, and it appears the shoe fits. With Fowler's mix of size, speed and athleticism, some players feel the move could pay big dividends. Said linebacker C.J. Mosley, "He's going to be a big handful."
No Mark Barron. No Dre Kirkpatrick or DeQuan Menzie. No Josh Chapman. No Dont'a Hightower or Courtney Upshaw. With so much gone from a year ago, defensive coordinator Kirby Smart has his hands full. The sixth-year coordinator at Alabama is tasked with following up one of the best defenses in college football history. The good news? The Tide have a wealth of talent and depth on the defensive side of the ball. Smart and staff have recruited well and are as well positioned to retool as any team in the country.
Speaking of recruiting, that fella Nick Saban is pretty good at it. Since 2008, Alabama is the only team to pull in a top-3 class every year. He's turned Alabama into arguably the top recruiting program in the nation. He's done so without gimmicks or foolhardy promises to recruits. Instead he's done so with simple facts: one SEC title, two national championships, 18 first-team All-Americans, 24 NFL draft picks -- 11 coming in the first round.
Despite serving four decades as a coach, Saban has not lost his edge on the practice field. While some coaches drift into CEO roles, Saban remains hands on, especially with the secondary. It's a surprise to some recruits, and a blessing. Saban's track record with the position speaks for itself. He may not think the players enjoy it -- he can be a tad demanding if you hadn't heard -- but the overall sentiment is a positive one.
The week didn't close well with several players being bitten by the injury bug. Eddie Lacy sprained his ankle and knee, Amari Cooper has a toe injury and backup center Ryan Kelly is dealing with a sprained ankle. It's nothing serious, says Saban, but it's certainly not a trend Tide coaches want to see continue as we inch closer to Sept. 1.
19hGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough
7dSam Khan Jr.