The 2023 version of the Alabama Crimson Tide takes the field on Saturday, April 22 for the annual A-Day game, looking to provide fans and media alike a small glimpse at what the team has spent this offseason working on.
With former Heisman winner Bryce Young off to the NFL as well as the leader of Alabama’s defense, Will Anderson, Jr., the Tide has many question marks as it enters this Saturday.
Take a look at some of the most interesting storylines to watch out for as Alabama prepares to take the field for the first time this season.
Jalen Milroe Versus Ty Simpson
First, and most obvious, is the ongoing quarterback battle between redshirt sophomore Jalen Milroe and redshirt freshman Ty Simpson.
Both players, by all reports, have made strides this offseason, but the decision of who will start remains to be seen.
Milroe is a very mobile quarterback with an extremely strong arm that, while inaccurate at times, can truly stretch the field. He appeared in eight games in 2022, starting once against Texas A&M in place of an injured Young, and finished the year with almost 60% completion for just under 300 yards. While his numbers through the air were a far cry from that of Young, Milroe made up for it with an impressive rushing effort, compiling 263 yards on just 31 carries.
Simpson, who redshirted in 2022 and saw limited action in four games, possesses his own athleticism, but truly shines with his pinpoint accuracy. 247Sports’ analyst Cooper Petagna said of the young signal caller as a prospect in 2022, “Projects to an All-Conference, potential All-American at the next level (…) Possesses the ability to be a multi-year, high level performer for a power five program.”
Although A-Day will not provide a truly accurate look at how either quarterback responds to a real game situation, it will give a look at how both players command the offense and their teams around them.
Impressive True Freshmen Vying for Playing Time
The Tide finished the 2023 recruiting cycle with the first ranked class in the nation, per 247Sports, and with it came droves of uber talented freshmen waiting for their opportunities in crimson and white.
While there are several freshmen who will likely make an impact this fall, two players have quickly established themselves as players to watch: Caleb Downs and Justice Haynes.
Downs was a five-star safety prospect ranked first in the state of Georgia by 247Sports. In high school, at Mill Creek in Hoschton, Georgia, Downs played on both offense and defense, racking up incredible stats across his career. In his final season in the peach state, the senior compiled 66 tackles, a sack, five interceptions and a fumble recovery while also combining for over 700 yards of offense.
In a March 2023 story, Josh Pate of 247Sports said of the freshman, “Caleb Downs, I fully expect to be an impact freshman. I don’t ever hear people compare high school recruits to Minkah Fitzpatrick at Alabama (…) They’re comparing Downs to Minkah Fitzpatrick. I don’t disagree.”
Haynes, a running back, is another former five-star recruit that hails from the state of Georgia. Ranked just behind Downs as the No. 2 player in the state, per 247Sports, Haynes dominated his competition at Buford High School, helping lead his team to two state titles in his time as a member of the Wolves.
Nick Saban himself spoke on the talented freshman following Alabama’s second spring scrimmage on April 15, saying, “[Haynes] has had a great spring. He’s a really good player. He’s a real mature guy. Nothing is really too big for him,” the coach continued, “He goes out there and competes and if you were just a guy sitting on a log watching him, you wouldn’t know he was a freshman.”
Both players will be in action for Alabama’s A-Day game with the potential for both to receive first team reps. While the spring game is not the same as a Saturday in the fall, it will give both freshman a taste of what SEC football is truly like.
Which Wideout Stakes their Claim as WR1?
Alabama likely has the most question marks of all at the wide receiver position. Losing players like Traeshon Holden, JoJo Earle, Aaron Anderson and more to the transfer portal left the Crimson Tide’s receiver room feeling a bit empty heading into this spring.
While the likes of Ja’Corey Brooks and Jermaine Burton will provide some veteran presence at the position, after those two, the level of experience drops off significantly.
Outside of its two returning upperclassmen, the most experienced wideouts on Alabama’s roster are Kendrick Law and Isaiah Bond who both saw limited use in 2022, combining for less than 400 receiving yards as a duo.
The Tide added an impressive transfer in Malik Benson, who hauled in 59 receptions for nearly 1,000 yards and ten touchdowns in 2022 at Hutchinson Community College, but it is yet to be seen whether or not his game will transfer to the SEC level.
While each of these wideouts, and the others on Alabama’s roster, possess their own unique skill sets, which of them, if any, will seperate themselves early as the top target?