The defense is breaking in eight new starters from January’s BCS National Championship game and virtually all spring games remove contact from the special teams and eliminate any dazzling performances among return specialists.
And the Alabama offense?
New coordinator Doug Nussmeier has been installing a system that reportedly includes more passing, but it wasn’t evident in Saturday’s 24-15 win by the White squad.
And head coach Nick Saban made sure it wasn’t going to be on display, not with Michigan waiting in the wings for a Sept. 1 matchup in Cowboys Stadium.
“You didn’t see anything new, unless you just want me to email Michigan what we’re doing and anything new that we’re doing,” Saban said. “What do you think you saw that was new? Did you see anything new? If I would have seen anything new out there, I would have been upset.”
The vanilla offense must have lulled quarterback AJ McCarron to sleep.
The returning starter threw an interception on the first play from scrimmage, lobbing a pass down the left sideline for Kenny Bell that was an easy grab for Robert Lester.
Later, McCarron was brilliant on a 32-yard sideline route to Bell, a curl at the flag to Christion Jones for a 17-yard touchdown and a flea flicker to Bell for another.
The junior was 29 of 42 for 304 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but threw three interceptions.The second interception was a heave toward the end zone on the final play of the first half and the final interception came after a great read by defensive back Vinnie Sunseri.
“I thought I did well,” McCarron said. “It’s kind of hard to describe anybody’s game because the offense could only do a certain amount of plays. You’re running the same play over and over and over. The first play of the game, pick. That was just something we tried that didn’t work.
“The second one before the half, Coach said take a shot. The last one, Vinnie just made a good play and jumped in front of it. I felt like I threw the ball good, though.”
Incoming freshman tailback T.J. Yeldon earned the Dixie Howell Most Valuable Player award after rushing for 88 yards and adding 91 receiving yards, both game highs, but the award had already been determined before Sunseri made a pair of plays to determine the outcome on the scoreboard.
With the White team clinging to a 17-15 lead, Crimson tight end Michael Williams was grabbed by Sunseri, HaHa Clinton-Dix and Deion Belue after a short gain. Clinton-Dix ripped the ball loose and Sunseri was there to return the fumble 21 yards for a touchdown.
“They just started ripping at the ball and I was thinking to myself, I’m going to back up a little bit so if this ball comes out I can pick it up.” Sunseri said. “It came out, I picked it up and scored.”
Six plays later, and with time running out, the Crimson team’s drive was cut short as Sunseri snared a pass on his hip, turned up the sideline and sprinted for the end zone.
He slowed down and took a knee at the 5-yard line, a move designed to let the White team to run out the clock. The White team did just that, but the ball was returned to midfield, where Saban ruled that McCarron would have tackled Sunseri, if quarterbacks were permitted live contact.
“He gave A.J. too much credit, that he could actually tackle me,” Sunseri said. “He doesn’t realize he was wearing that black (non-contact) jersey for a reason.”
The late-game plays brought the crowd of 78,526 back to life after an afternoon filled with repetitive plays and predictable defensive results.
“That’s no secret,” Crimson offensive lineman Barrett Jones said. “Nobody’s going to show their best plays in the spring, offense or defense. It was definitely more base stuff.”
Jack linebacker Adrian Hubbard won the Dwight Stevenson Most Valuable Lineman honors after recording seven tackles, leading all players with three sacks and four tackles for loss.
“That’s ‘Hub,’” McCarron said. “He’s always done that. Even when he was on scout team, he made those plays.”
While Saturday’s game didn’t show the fans much, McCarron said he is excited about the potential for the Tide’s offense in 2012.
“We’re opening it up,” he said. “We’re spreading it out and letting it fly. We’re still running the ball, we’re still the old Alabama, but we’ve got some new plays and any time you run new plays, it’s fun to experience. We’ve got to take these next couple of months and continue to progress and make this offense the best it can be.”
For Saban and the Alabama coaching staff, the spring game provided an opportunity to see how some of the younger players performed in game-like situations and how the older players performed in new leadership roles.
“We’ve certainly made some progress in that and we’ll evaluate this game and see if some other guys didn’t step up and do that,” he said. “We were pleased with the spring that we had – not satisfied, just pleased – and we’ll continue to work over the summer and hopefully guys will make the type of commitment to work that they can improve on and be better players in the fall.”