Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Alabama spring game 2024: What to expect as Crimson Tide transition to Kalen DeBoer from Nick Saban

Saturday’s spring game begins one of the most pivotal seasons in modern Alabama football history as the Crimson Tide look to defend their place as one of the premier programs in the sport without Nick Saban, arguably the greatest coach in the sport’s history. Kalen DeBoer understood the gravity of following in Saban’s wake, or he would not have accepted the job after leading Washington all the way to the College Football Playoff National Championship in 2023. The annual A-Day scrimmage provides our first look at how DeBoer’s team and program might look similar, and also different, to the Alabama teams of year’s past. 

This is not the first time DeBoer has faced a pivotal spring practice, and if previous examples are any indication, it’s a good sign for Alabama’s future with him at the helm. When DeBoer took over at Washington heading into the 2022 season, he inherited a roster that had been shellshocked by a rapid drop from the top of the Pac-12 to a four-win season. Many of those veterans understood that transferring out was an option, but DeBoer only asked for a chance in the spring to prove that he and his staff could lead the Huskies back to the top. Many took him up on that offer and eventually became the fifth- and sixth-year leaders who were the face of Washington’s run all the way to last year’s title game. 

But this spring practice carries even more weight. DeBoer is not taking over a Washington program that slipped from a Chris Petersen-established standard. He’s taking over an Alabama program that totaled six national championships under Saban and just last year won its ninth SEC Championships since 2009. DeBoer is a proven winner, but his challenge is not to save a program; it is to maintain the Tide’s status atop the sport. That work started during this key transitional spring, and on Saturday we’ll get a good look at how things are shaping up for 2024.

Different format for A-Day

Under Saban, A-Day involved the roster being divided between a Crimson Team and White Team. One would have the first-team offense and second-team defense, while the other would have the second-team offense and first-team defense, and the score would kept just like a regular game. DeBoer is choosing a different method, focusing solely on offense vs. defense with a unique scoring system in which the offense scores touchdowns and field goals, while the defense can score points with big plays like sacks, tackles for loss and interceptions. 

“Format for the spring game will be offense vs. defense,” DeBoer said Thursday, via 247Sports. “We won’t have divided teams. Couple of reasons, number one, I like to look at it as practice No. 15. We’ll see a lot of great scrimmaging out there, but it’s a chance for us to get better, a chance for us to take the next step, a chance for us to evaluate. We’ll really get down to the bare bones of playing some football.” 

Unique scoring systems like this can be a little difficult to follow for fans who aren’t dialed into the game from start to finish, but DeBoer is correct in how the scrimmage-like setup can allow for evaluation of how the different units have progressed this spring. 

Milroe’s command of a new offense

Last season saw Jalen Milroe get off to a rocky start under new offensive coordinator Tommy Rees only to settle in to the QB1 role with strong playmaking over the second half of the season on the way to an SEC championship and College Football Playoff appearance. When Milroe’s greatest strengths (his deep ball passing and mobility in the open field) were highlighted, the offense took on a new dimension and erased the early season frustrations. 

Saturday’s A-Day will be our first look at not only how DeBoer wants to use Milroe, but how Milroe’s game has developed throughout the offseason. All public comments have indicated that Milroe will have the reins of the offense and is not in the midst of a quarterback competition at the moment, but solidifying his claim on QB1 can certainly be a takeaway if he performs well in the spring game. 

Which pass-catchers show out?

There is a ton of production that needs to be replaced at the wide receiver position, and the offense-defense format should allow for us to get a good look at the top options available for Milroe and the new offensive scheme. Jermaine Burton (NFL Draft), Isaiah Bond (Texas), Ja’Corey Brooks (Louisville) and Malik Benson (Florida State) are all gone, and that’s a ton of receptions and yards to replace from last year’s College Football Playoff team. Kobe Prentice and Kendrick Law both contributed in previous seasons, making them obvious options to pick up the additional opportunities. But there are also a couple of intriguing newcomers to keep an eye on, like Germie Bernard, who followed DeBoer from Washington and was the team’s fourth-leading receiver in 2023, and five-star early enrollee Caleb Odom, who is built more like a tight end but has drawn positive reviews for his play at wide receiver. 

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