Alabama football: McClain, Arenas and Johnson leave one more impression

sports@ledger-enquirer.comApril 18, 2010 

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Wet cement doesn’t stay that way long when exposed to direct sunlight.

With temperatures in the low 80s and a late van, there was some concern the Walk of Champions ceremony would be a dud Saturday afternoon.

Sponged down a few times, the cement was still wet enough to enshrine three more players into the sidewalk next to Denny Chimes. Rolando McClain, Mike Johnson and Javier Arenas left their impression — at least a hand and foot in the quad in a tradition dating back to the 1940s.

Each gave a quick speech before making their way to the drying cement. A laughing McClain was interrupted several times by fans shouting his name.

Afterward, he still had a hard time explaining the support he received during the past three years.

“It’s crazy,” he said. “It’s all still surreal to me.”

On the topic of the NFL draft that starts Thursday, McClain said it can be frustrating at times because he has no control over the process at this point.

Big recruiting day

A-Day means more than just preparing for the next season.

About 20 minutes before the Walk of Fame ceremony began, three bus loads of recruits and family members were dropped off, with the prospects getting a taste of the program traditions.

Flanked by cheerleaders, Crimsonettes and the dance team, the high schoolers appeared to enjoy the ceremony. Later in the day, they watched warmups from the sideline, just like at any other game day.

“I know a lot of recruits said ‘We’re here today, we’re excited about it’ as well as our players that we just finished recruiting,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said.

Two trick plays

Each team was given the opportunity to run one trick play Saturday, and both were successful.

The White team was the first to go with the flea flicker when tight end Brad Smelley took the shotgun snap, turned and lateraled to A.J. McCarron who connected with Trent Richardson. The running back made a fingertip catch for the gain of 27 yards.

The Crimson’s rebuttal came in the second quarter on the first play after Greg McElroy threw an interception. A handoff to Eddie Lacy was pitched right back to the quarterback who found a diving Marquis Maze in the end zone, although replays showed he was out of bounds, the 39-yard play counted.

Kicking game struggles

Leigh Tiffin and P.J. Fitzgerald will be missed among the Alabama faithful this season.

The place-kicking and punting took a significant dip compared to last year’s on A-Day. Replacement kickers Jeremy Shelley and Cade Foster faced long field goals in the first half, and neither came close.

Both were true on short kicks — Shelley on a 20-yarder in the first quarter and Foster a 27-yarder in the fourth.

“The kicking game — I think we have two good enough kickers between their accuracy, the leg strength of one guy and the accuracy of the other — we can come up with a pretty good kicking game from that stand point,” Saban said.

The punters were even less successful, at least early on.

Punts of 12, 26 and 27 yards were followed by groans in the first quarter before Zach Goether settled down to average 36.2 yards on 14 tries. Saban said offensive lineman Taylor Pharr was going to punt Saturday, but a concussion suffered earlier in the week kept him from playing Saturday.

Help, though, is on the way.

True freshman Jay Williams is due to arrive this summer, and Saban has mentioned him as a strong candidate to win the job by the fall.

The punt returners replacing the record-breaking Arenas didn’t get much of an opportunity to work on their craft with unreturnable kicks coming their way. A host of skill players lined up deep, including Julio Jones, Maze, Mark Ingram, and true freshman DeMarcus Milliner.

No injuries

Ask Saban, and nobody lost the A-Day game.

His reasoning? The trainers didn’t have much to do.

“We didn’t get anybody injured, which is always the most important thing,” Saban said. “You really can’t lose a spring game unless you lose players.”

There were a few minor issues, though. Marcell Dareus said he became overheated, and Ingram was slow getting off the turf on the last play before halftime.

“I just fell on my wrist, trying to break my fall,” he said. “But I’m good.”

He returned in the second half to run 60 yards.

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