The main thing Alabama football is looking for at A-Day scrimmage | Hurt

Cecil Hurt

There will be a large new bronze elephant rising above the skyline when fans enter Bryant-Denny Stadium for Alabama football's A-Day game Saturday, but the focus will shift once the spectators are seated and the scrimmaging starts.

That’s because it won’t take very long to determine that, despite the decorative pachyderm on the outside, a great deal of players who have roamed the turf on the inside have migrated elsewhere.

Jordan Battle, a junior defensive back on this year’s team, went down a partial list Tuesday.

“Landon Dickerson,” he began. “Patrick Surtain. DeVonta Smith. Alex Leatherwood. Jaylen Waddle.

“Coach (Nick) Saban hasn’t found his leaders yet.”

Saban has been vocal about the need for someone to lead this spring, although most of his comments have seemed to center around the need for sophomore quarterback Bryce Young to assume that role in the huddle. Battle, meanwhile, says leadership falls on every player, starting with himself.

”I’m comfortable with it,” he said. “That’s because of guys like Pat Surtain. He showed me the way, not just to lead during practice, but to stay after practice, to tell the other groups, the linebackers and defensive line, what you see from them, what they need to do.”

Reports from Alabama’s first two scrimmages are that the defense is, so far, doing what it needs to do. That means making it difficult on the offense, although Battle said the second scrimmage was closer than the scuttlebutt suggests and that the defense was “not necessarily” ahead of the offense.

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“The last scrimmage was very competitive,” he said. “We were going back and forth. It was a great scrimmage for the offense and the defense.”

Without firsthand observation to put statistics, or even anecdotal information, into context, it’s impossible to say whether any passing game problems are related to a fierce-sounding pass rush or blanket coverage. As in the fall, there is probably some combination of both. No one gives the 2020 defense much credit for dealing with the juggernaut it faced at practice, and while the pendulum isn’t going to swing back to 1992, there does seem to be some momentum in the defense’s direction. 

Saturday, the defense will be looking to dominate (or battle on even terms) again, although with the teams split into Crimson and White units, rather than lining the first offense up against the first defense,  the focus might be on individuals more than overall units. Still, it’s not a coincidence that Battle mentioned Surtain twice in an interview that lasted only a few minutes. The Crimson Tide has plenty of promising prospects in the secondary but no one who, a year away from the 2022 NFL Draft, is a sure-fire first-rounder the way Surtain was. 

Some of the possibilities: Battle, Daniel Wright, Malachi Moore (a freshman starter last season who is sitting out the spring after back surgery), DeMarcco Hellams, Marcus Banks (who had two interceptions in the second scrimmage), Ronald Williams, Jalyn Armour-Davis and, perhaps the most frequently mentioned freshman early enrollee among Crimson Tide fans, GaQuincy “Koolaid” McKinstry, who recently received more than 5,000 likes on Twitter for sharing a couple of practice photos.

Saban, who coaches the secondary daily, hasn’t pressed the “like” button for the entire unit very often.

“I think the secondary, the guys that have experience and have played,” Saban said after UA’s second scrimmage. "I think they’re playing pretty well. We need to find more guys in the secondary that can play winning football.” 

Reach Cecil Hurt at or via Twitter @cecilhurt