UAB Football begins Fall practice today (July 31) as we begin our final countdown towards #theReturn. We are just 33 days away from kickoff against Alabama A&M at Legion Field.
It’s hard to believe that we are so close to watching UAB football, but the time has almost come.
As fall practice begins today, let’s look at a few things we’ll be watching for at each position group as we prepare for gameday on September 2.
The most obvious is the quarterback battle between A.J. Erdely and Tyler Johnston. It could come down to the wire as both guys have been really good in recent scrimmages. I think Erdely was the clear front-runner early, but Johnston has steadily improved. Whoever has the better fall camp could win the starting job. However, I think both of these guys see playing time regardless of who the starter is.
The running back position is wide open. There are a handful of guys who could earn the starting job this fall. It will be interesting to see who takes the biggest strides in practice and earns the most carries as the season begins. There are nine running backs listed on the current roster, and at least half of them have a shot to be the feature back. What happens in the next 30-plus days will determine who wins that job.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
We know Collin Lisa is a starter, but after that it’s anyone’s guess. There are a number of new recruits coming this fall who haven’t had any time with the team that could make an impact at wide receiver. This fall will be our first time to see guys like Brock McCoin work with our quarterbacks and offense. Just like at running back, there is plenty of talent at wide receiver, but we need to see who will step up and stand out.
There hasn’t been much discussion about tight end, but that could be a very important position for UAB in year one. The tight end is sometimes a blanket option for a young, inexperienced quarterback. Hopefully someone will emerge in fall practice as a good, pass catching tight end option.
James Davis and Chris Schleuger are a pretty good start on the offensive line, but we’ll see who can fill out the other three spots. As is the case with most good teams, it all starts upfront. But that’s especially the case with UAB this year as they’ll need to protect the quarterback and open up the running game to help get UAB’s offense going in year one.
The UAB roster has Shaq Jones listed as a defensive lineman, but he’s listed as a linebacker everywhere else. Wherever he plays, he figures to be the leader of the defense. Anthony Rush should also be a beast in the middle of the defensive line. What we’ll be watching for here is the depth. I think UAB will put together a very strong front 3/4, but the question will be how deep are they? We need to see if UAB can rotate guys on the defensive line and not lose any steam.
As mentioned, wherever Shaq Jones plays he will be a play-maker. I could see him getting down on the line as an edge rusher at times, and then backing off to play linebacker other times. Tevin Crews also returns for UAB at linebacker and should be a key to this unit. One thing to watch here is whether or not true freshman Thomas Johnston does enough to earn a starting spot. I can almost guarantee that if healthy, Johnston will see plenty of playing time this year, but he’ll need to earn a starting spot this fall. This is a very deep group for UAB, and I just hope they stay healthy during fall practice.
To be honest, I don’t know much about the secondary. According to Phil Steele’s preview magazine, he has Duke Culver and Darious Williams starting at cornerback, while Mar’Sean Diggs and Will Dawkins are starting at safety. I’m just interested in getting to know this group better, because to me it’s the least known group of the bunch.
I’m not going to begin to act like I know anything about our kicking game, but what will be most interesting to watch on special teams is the kick returners. UAB excelled in this area with JJ Nelson, and while we probably won’t find anyone similar to his skill set, I can’t wait to see who coach Clark puts back there. Collin Lisa was back as a punt returner in the spring game and I think he’s probably the favorite for that job.
Stay tuned to The Daily Dragon throughout fall practice as we bring you news updates and give our analysis/opinions leading up to kickoff on September 2.