The final FBS spring games in the state take place this weekend with Troy and Alabama. For the Tide, the big question mark right now is Tua Tagovailoa as he is out with a hand injury. We won’t see him this weekend at A-Day, so instead, who are five other players I’m keeping my eye on?
1. QB Jalen Hurts
Honorable Mention: QB Mac Jones
With Tua out, this is Jalen’s chance to shine. It doesn’t mean he’ll win the starting job, as that debate will rage on until the Tide take the field against Louisville down in Orlando for their first game. However, we are all waiting to see what Jalen’s arm looks like after another offseason of improvement.
I’m also interested to see what Mac Jones has to offer. He kind of gets left behind in discussions about Jalen and Tua, but he is a different kind of QB that could provide a new look to the Crimson Tide offense. He’ll get his chance this weekend since Tua won’t be in action and he can take the majority of the second team snaps.
2. OL Alex Leatherwood
Honorable Mention: OL Ross Pierschbacher
Leatherwood was able to step in and play a big role in the championship game. As much as people want to talk about Tua or Najee Harris or Devonta Smith, they forget about Alex Leatherwood coming in for Jonah Williams and saving the day.
I’m looking forward to seeing what Leatherwood can do this year if he does indeed start at the right tackle position. Tua is a lefty, so Leatherwood would be the blindside tackle for him assuming they don’t shift Williams over.
Pierschbacher is an honorable mention because of his move to center. With Bradley Bozeman gone, Pierschbacher or Williams seemed like the best candidates to shift into that position.
3. CB Trevon Diggs
Honorable Mention: S Xavier McKinney
Deionte Thompson and Trevon Diggs are the only returning players in the secondary who have any starting experience. Diggs started against Florida State in last year’s opener but was replaced by Levi Wallace. Now it’s Diggs’ turn. He suffered an ankle injury early in the spring, but Saban said he practiced last week.
Diggs will also have an impact in the return game, returning 18 punts for 154 yards last year.
Xavier McKinney is someone I expect a lot out of after watching his career in high school. McKinney played at Roswell, which is one of the better programs in Georgia. He will compete for a safety spot alongside Thompson, but will have to hold off competition such as Daniel Wright.
4. LB Dylan Moses
Honorable Mention: LB Ben Davis
With all of the linebacker injuries last year, Keith Holcombe and Dylan Moses had to step up late in the season. Holcombe is sticking to baseball this spring, so it will be up to Dylan Moses to show us what he’s got. We know what Mack Wilson can do, but if he goes down, or needs a play to rest – who can step in? Moses was a 5-star recruit out of IMG Academy and contributed last year on special teams, and then at linebacker when the injuries happened.
Meanwhile, Ben Davis has been invisible on this team. He and Mack Wilson both came out as the only 5-stars in the class of 2016 and they were only two of three 5-stars that were signed by Alabama that year (Jonah Williams was the other). However, while Williams and Wilson have played great, Davis has hardly played at all. I’ll be interested to see how much playing time he gets at A-Day and next season as well. Markail Benton, a top linebacker in the state in 2017 from Central-Phenix City, was redshirted last year and will look to contribute some this season.
5. TE Irv Smith Jr.
Honorable Mention: TE Major Tennison
Alabama has had a few good tight ends under Nick Saban, but perhaps none bigger than OJ Howard. It’s up to a group of guys now to take the place of OJ, but Irv Smith is the one that stands out to me as the best option. I think he’s the best option, but I wish the QB’s would see him more often.
Major Tennison will get his first chance to really show off. He played sparingly last year, but didn’t really record any meaningful snaps.