Alabama will have its first A-Day in over two calendar years on Saturday.
The Crimson Tide, fresh off winning coach Nick Saban’s second undefeated national championship, will look to replace receivers DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, running back Najee Harris, quarterback Mac Jones, cornerback Patrick Surtain II and defensive lineman Christian Barmore, among others.
That is a significant amount of talent to replace, even for a Saban-coached team. It certainly doesn’t help that Alabama is once again having to replace several key coaches, including offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian (Texas head coach), offensive line coach Kyle Flood (Texas offensive coordinator), special teams coordinator Jeff Banks (Texas special teams coordinator), cornerbacks coach Karl Scott (Vikings defensive backs coach) and running backs coach Charles Huff (Marshall head coach).
But Alabama’s 2021 recruiting class, the highest-rated in the history of 247Sports’ Composite rankings, has allayed any fears Tide fans may have for the upcoming season. The Tide also brought in several high-end assistant coaches in former Texans head coach Bill O’Brien (as offensive coordinator) and former Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone (offensive line).
MORE: Watch Alabama’s spring game live with fuboTV (7-day free trial)
All of that points to what could be another special season for the Tide. There are no guarantees in college football, even at Alabama, but Saturday’s game should at least indicate what this team’s strengths and weaknesses are. With that, here’s everything you need to know about this year’s A-Day game, including time, date and storylines to watch.
When is Alabama’s spring game?
- Date: Saturday, April 17
- Time: 1 p.m. ET
Alabama’s spring game will start at 1 p.m. ET at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
How to watch Alabama spring game
The Crimson Tide’s spring game will air on ESPN, meaning you can also stream the game live with fuboTV, which offers a seven-day free trial.
How many fans are allowed at A-Day?
The maximum capacity for Saturday’s game is set at 50 percent, or roughly 50,000 fans in the stands at Bryant-Denny. Spectators must wear facial coverings at all times while in attendance, except when eating or drinking.
Biggest question from Alabama spring game
How does the defense look?
Crimson Tide fans have been critical of Pete Golding, who is entering his third season as defensive coordinator. The defense in 2020 was virtually Alabama’s only weakness as it twice forced the offense to lead victories in shootouts: 63-48 over Ole Miss and 52-46 over Florida in the SEC championship game.
Outside of those games, however, no team scored more than 24 points against the Tide, who surrendered an average of 14.4 points when excluding Ole Miss and Florida. Even when including the Rebels and Gators, the Tide led the SEC in scoring defense at 19.4 points per game. The unit is losing several important pieces, including defensive lineman Christian Barmore, cornerback Patrick Surtain II and linebacker Dylan Moses. Barmore is a fringe first-round prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft while Surtain is considered a lock to be a first-round selection.
That said, the team returns a stable group of players in the front seven and experience in the secondary.
Of note, linebackers Will Anderson, Christian Harris and Christopher Allen, who combined for 17.5 sacks and 30.5 tackles for loss last season, all return. LaBryan Ray, a five-star recruit from Alabama’s 2017 class, will look to dominate in a healthy season for once. Look for five-star linemen Damon Payne and Dallas Turner to contribute as well.
The secondary returns every starter aside from Surtain, including Malachi Moore, DeMarco Hellams, Jordan Battle, Daniel Wright and Josh Jobe. Look for incoming freshman Ga’Quincy McKinstry, the top corner in the 2021 class, to vie for a starting spot.
Alabama QB competition
It appears as if the job is Bryce Young’s to lose. Many expected the No. 2 overall player and No. 1 quarterback in the 2020 recruiting class to immediately take the starting job from Mac Jones ahead of last season. That never materialized, however, as Jones put together one of the most efficient individual seasons by a quarterback in college football history.
Saban said Young has become “better and better” in spring practice at grasping the playbook and becoming a leader of the offense.
“I think he realizes what he needs to do to try to help the players around him to play better, and I think he’s done it very well,” Saban said (via 247Sports).
Apart from Young, it appears the only quarterbacks who can seriously contend for the starting job are redshirt sophomore Paul Tyson and Jalen Milroe, an early enrollee from the 2021 class. Milroe in particular was considered a recruiting steal in the 2021 class as the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the state of Texas. He’s considerably larger than Young (6-3, 208 pounds to Young’s 6-0, 194 pounds).
Three more positions to watch
Alabama in 2021 landed what might be the highest-rated offensive line class in recruiting history (or at least since 247Sports began ranking players and teams). The Tide pulled in the top two offensive tackles, JC Latham (No. 2 overall) and Tommy Brockermeyer (No. 5 overall); the No. 2 guard, Terrence Ferguson (No. 57 overall); the No. 1 center, James Brockermeyer (No. 189 overall) and the No. 15 guard, Jaeden Roberts (No. 251 overall). All but Roberts enrolled early.
For those who are keeping track, that is an entire offensive line unit.
That said, there are only so many open positions. Gone are center Landon Dickerson and left tackle Alex Leatherwood — fringe first-round NFL Draft picks — but returning are several key pieces, including backup center Chris Owens, right tackle Evan Neal and starting right guard Emil Ekiyor Jr.
Gone are 2020 Heisman winner DeVonta Smith and backup Jaylen Waddle, who many thought was Alabama’s best receiver before he broke his ankle against Tennessee. That leaves John Metchie III and Slade Bolden as the only returning receivers who got significant playing time in 2020. Tight end Jahleel Billingsley should also be a major part of the pass-catching rotation.
The Tide addressed the need for pass-catchers in their 2021 class, recruiting what could be the top positional group in college football: five-star Jacorey Brooks (No. 2 wide receiver, No. 26 overall); Agiye Hall (No. 5 wide receiver, No. 44 overall); JoJo Earle (No. 6 wide receiver, No. 46 overall); and Christian Leary (No. 10 wide receiver, No. 74 overall). Earle is the only player among that group not currently on campus.
It stands to reason that some of those freshmen will see significant playing time in 2021, but look for returning depth pieces Javon Baker, Xavier Williams, Traeshon Holden and Thaiu Jones-Bell to challenge for a starting position as well.
Alabama again has an embarrassment of riches at this position, as only 2020 Doak Walker Award winner Najee Harris elected to leave school following last season. Senior Brian Robinson will likely be in the rotation, but Jase McClellan, Trey Sanders and Roydell Williams are all vying for playing time behind him. Each are top-100 recruits from their respective signing classes; Sanders was the top overall player at his position in 2019. Unfortunately for him, a torn ACL in 2019 and a car accident in 2020 has kept him from gaining significant playing time. He should be fully healthy for the first time in 2021.
Surprisingly, Saban signed Camar Wheaton, the No. 2 overall running back in the Class of 2021, to a scholarship. Saban’s philosophy is to never turn down an excellent back, however, which means Wheaton will have to work for any playing time he gets in 2021. Wheaton will not play in Saturday’s A-Day Game.
Freshmen to watch
Offense: Jacorey Brooks, WR
Brooks, who’s listed at 6-3, 185 pounds, is considered the top receiver in Alabama’s vaunted 2021 class, meaning he’ll likely have the best chance, on paper, to work his way into the receiving corps. Former NFL player Cris Dishman, who coached defensive backs at Brooks’ IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., offered this scouting report on the No. 2 receiver in the 2021 class:
“He’s a never say never guy. He’s a very hard worker. He’s got very good hands. Good route running ability,” Dishman said (via AL.com). Everyone keeps saying he’s not as fast. But once he gets going, he’s got good top-end speed. But he’s a very good route runner. Hand-eye coordination is very good. The guys I can compare him to is someone like, his work ethic is like a Jerry Rice. He’s going to work extremely hard. He’s going to be on time. He’s going to be a yes sir, no sir type of person. If you tell him to do something, he’s going to do it. He’s a pleaser if you know him.”
Defense: Ga’Quincy McKinstry, CB
McKinstry — or “Kool-Aid,” as he’s called — is expected to challenge for significant playing time in place of Surtain in 2021. The No. 1 overall player from the state of Alabama in the 2021 class was such a priority that Tide basketball coach Nate Oats offered him playing time on his team. He caught 45 passes his senior season in high school. He’s an athletic talent who should be a force once he adds weight to his 6-0, 180-pound frame.