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TRips: Three scrimmage thoughts

Three thoughts following Saturday's scrimmage:

Nico Johnson and the rest of the front seven had a productive scrimmage.

What we already knew: As expected, the Alabama offense channeled its inner Houston Gamblers during Saturday's scrimmage. Statistics released by UA credited A.J. McCarron with 43 pass attempts. Rumor has it, Phillip Ely attempted more than the one pass he completed for a touchdown.

On the heels of "Machine Gun" McCarron's outing, It's worth noting that Alabama has attempted 40 or more passes in a game just once since 2007 (Auburn 2010). Given the strides McCarron continues to make, it's reasonable to think a big season is on the horizon for the junior. Just don't expect the Crimson Tide to abandon its trademark balanced approach for Air McCarron.

Even without Josh Chapman and Dont'a Hightower anchoring the middle of the defense, the Crimson Tide front seven is going to be difficult to run against. Alabama's top three available backs -- Jalston Fowler, Dee Hart and T.J. Yeldon -- for Saturday's scrimmage combined to carry 30 times for 86 yards (2.9 ypc). UA opponents averaged 2.4 yards per tote in 2011.

Given the way he performed in limited opportunities a season ago, Vinnie Sunseri's loaded stat line (5 tackles, interception, pass breakup, tackle for loss) came as no surprise. Regardless of where he lines up, the sophomore safety is going to find the football.

What we learned on Saturday: According to Nick Saban, backup quarterback Phillip Sims' throwing has been limited by a sore right shoulder that dates back to the end of last season. That's bad news for the sophomore but good news for redshirt freshman Phillip Ely, who can use the reps in advance of Alec Morris' summer arrival.

Meanwhile, reports of the secondary's demise may have been a bit premature as Alabama defensive backs were credited Saturday with picking off three passes and breaking up four more.

While production from Sunseri, Dee Milliner and Robert Lester was expected, it appears as if the re-signing of Deion Belue wasn't just about making good on a promise from two years ago.

With much of the focus on fellow junior college transfer Travell Dixon's recruitment, Belue, who returned an interception 93 yards for a touchdown Saturday, was somewhat of an afterthought. The Tuscumbia native's play over the first few weeks of spring ball has gone a long way in changing that perception.

Maybe, just maybe, Cody Mandell is ready to join the upper echelon of SEC punters. Considering that punting stats from last spring's closed scrimmages weren't made available, the fact that UA publicized Mandell's 42.6-yard average from yesterday's workout could be taken as a good sign.

What we're still trying to figure out: At outside linebacker, Adrian Hubbard and Xzavier Dickson are legitimate SEC talents. As Saban noted post-scrimmage, however, there are depth concerns at the jack and strongside spots. Saban alluded to the possibility of moving guys around, so expect individual drills at the inside and outside linebacker spots to be closely monitored this week.

The two-footed combination of Jeremy Shelley and Cade Foster knocked home 7 of 8 field goal attempts Saturday, with the lone miss coming on a 54-yard attempt by Foster. Place kicking at Alabama is the equivalent of quarterback play at LSU in that fans of both teams won't buy the improvement talk until they see it with their own eyes in the fall.

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