Throughout the years, Alabama’s deep roster has served as an advantage, providing quality players on its scout team during practice to help the Crimson Tide prepare for its weekly opponents.
It wasn’t too long ago that starting quarterback Jalen Hurts found himself on the scout team. The true freshman was thrust into the role of Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson shortly after enrolling into the school in December, as Alabama prepared for its national championship game against the Tigers.
Hurts now leads the Tide’s offense, while former backup Blake Barnett has transferred from the program. Second-string quarterback Cooper Bateman still needs reps during practice, and fellow backup David Cornwell has battled injuries all season.
With depth dwindling, Alabama needed to get creative to maintain its advantage.
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Enter in NCAA bylaw 18.104.22.168, a rule stating, “A former student at the certifying institution (e.g., former student-athlete) may participate in an organized practice session on an occasional basis, provided the institution does not publicize the participation of the former student at any time before the practice session.”
In the past two games that has meant former quarterback’s Blake Sims and John Parker Wilson as well as running back Trent Richardson among others have been able to participate in practice. Sims played the role of Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight, while Wilson and Richardson helped the Tide last week representing LSU quarterback Danny Etling and running back Leonard Fournette respectively.
“I think Trent gave a pretty good look, and John Parker, too,” Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “I tackled Trent this week, man. That’s a big guy, man. It’s also pretty cool just to go against those guys, knowing what they’ve done for the program. I think it’s just a lot of respect for those guys.”
Seeing former players at practice does more than just prepare the team for the weekend’s game, it also serves as a morale boost to current players. To many members of the team, the practice reps mean a chance to test their skills against players they grew up rooting for.
“It’s pretty cool because I grew up watching those dudes,” Alabama linebacker Ryan Anderson said. “I look up to them. To be out there with them, it’s just a different feeling.”
The workouts also prove beneficial to the former Tide athletes themselves, many of which are looking to get in better shape for future pro opportunities. That was the case for Sims, who practiced with the team after getting released by the Atlanta Falcons.
“He was looking for some place to work so he had a chance to get better,” Saban said on Oct. 25. “Based on our situation at quarterback and the kind of guy we were playing against, it was really convenient to have him here to help us.”
According to Matt Self, Alabama’s assistant athletics director for compliance, the university is not allowed to pay the former athletes and can only provide them with basic necessities to workout, such as Gatorade and equipment to use.
The players are essentially viewed as guests and take no role as either assistants or coaches on the team. Self said former athletes are constantly coming in and out of the building, and some have volunteered to play a role in practice. After that, it’s up to the coaching staff to make the call.
The NCAA rules provide no limit to how many different athletes the Tide can use during a season, only stating that a player is used on an “occasional basis.” Self said the program takes great caution in scheduling players for practice, approving each one with the SEC office before sending them out the practice field.
Self said the dialogue between Alabama and the conference has remained fluid, with both parties going back and forth to make sure no rules are broken in the process.
“We try to stay on top of the rules,” Saban said on Oct. 25. “We have people in our administration who do a good job of letting us know what we can and can't do and we would never do something like that unless we got it approved by the SEC office, which we did, and the NCAA.”
The use of ex-players is not unique to only Alabama. Earlier this year, California brought back a former player in five-time Pro Bowl running back Marshawn Lynch to practice.
Since news first broke of Blake Sims’ role on the Tide’s scout team prior Alabama’s game against Texas A&M, Self said the university has received numerous calls from other programs wanting information about the Tide’s policy.
However, Alabama is in no rush to give away any edge it can get.
Mississippi State at Alabama
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