By Stan J. Griffin
Although it is basically a glorified scrimmage in many respects, the University of Alabama's annual spring football game serves a couple of very significant purposes.
First of all, the A-Day contest allows Nick Saban and his staff an opportunity to take a look at many of the Crimson Tide players, especially the younger and less-experienced ones, in a live situation that is as close to an actual game as possible.
Secondly, it allows football-starved Alabama fans a first opportunity to get a first glance at the team that will take the field later in the fall. It offers them a little taste of pigskin action to watch, cheer on and, later, dissect until Saban's team kicks off the season for real on Sept. 5 against Wisconsin in Arlington, Texas.
The 2015 A-Day Game is set for April 18, with the game scheduled to kick off at 2 p.m.
The A-Day game is the culmination of a full day of activities on campus, including 2014 permanent captains Amari Cooper, Blake Sims, Landon Collins and Jalston Fowler putting their hands and cleats in cement outside of Denny Chimes prior to kickoff.
Admission is once again free for the contest, and another large crowd is expected. Last year, an announced crowd of 73,506 attended the game.
As usual, there are several interesting storylines heading into the contest, and several individual players that those attending will be keeping a sharp eye on.
The Crimson Tide enters the season with questions at several spots, including at quarterback, at receiver, and in the secondary.
As usual, the quarterback competition will likely be the most scrutinized position for the 2015 Crimson Tide, and several of those candidates for the position will likely get extended playing time during the spring game, including senior Jake Coker, sophomore David Cornwell, junior Cooper Bateman, senior Alec Morris and perhaps even highly-touted freshman Blake Barnett.
Barnett, from Corona, California, is one of eight freshman (now seven after Jonathan Taylor's dismissal) early enrollees, along with running back DeSherrius Flowers, safety Ronnie Harrison, offensive lineman Brandon Kennedy, running back Bo Scarbrough, safety Deionte Thompson and offensive lineman Dallas Warmack.
Several of those early enrollees may figure prominently into the Tide’s plans for the A-Day game, and also for the 2015 season, including Barnett, and possibly athletes such as Harrison and Thompson in the Tide secondary, as Alabama looks for much improvement in that area.
Although Alabama lost talented offensive contributors such as Cooper and running back T.J. Yeldon, the Tide will be bringing in talented newcomers at those positions, but A-Day will also allow some weapons still on the roster, such as Chris Black, Cam Sims, Ardarius Stewart and Robert Foster a chance to shine and show their abilities.
It will also be interesting to see how much all-purpose threat Kenyan Drake will be allowed to participate in the game, as he continues to get back to speed after suffering a devastating leg injury against Ole Miss last season. Saban has said that Drake continues to recuperate well from the injury, but is still a bit behind in his overall conditioning.
Photo: UA Athletics