Quarterback battle takes center stage at 2023 A-Day Game

Blake Byler, Sports Editor

Sunny and 75, a faint cool breeze, and 58 thousand fans clad in crimson and white in the lower bowl of Bryant-Denny Stadium. What more could you ask for on a spring afternoon?

Alabama football’s annual A-Day Game, its final spring scrimmage open to the public, took place Saturday afternoon and showcased the old and new talent that will take the field for the Crimson Tide in 2023.

The game divides the team into two competing squads, the Crimson team, consisting of the first-team defense and second-team offense, and the White team, consisting of the first-team offense and second-team defense. When the clock hit triple zeroes, it was the Crimson team that took home the win by a final score of 30-21 – and won themselves a steak dinner courtesy of head coach Nick Saban.

At the forefront of this final scrimmage was the battle for starting signal-caller in 2023, a position now vacant after Bryce Young has moved onto the NFL and will in all likelihood be the No. 1 overall pick in next week’s NFL Draft. The competitors for the elusive title are redshirt sophomore Jalen Milroe and redshirt freshman Ty Simpson.

“I think the big thing we’re working on with the quarterbacks is, fundamentally, what they have to do to be able to process what the defense is doing,” Saban said. “So that you have a plan in your mind of, ‘this is what I’m reading, this is where I’m going, and this is the progression that I want to go through.”

Milroe was given the nod to compete with the first team as a member of the White team, likely due to his time spent as Young’s backup last season. Milroe had an up-and-down game, struggling with the deep ball early on and displaying some shakiness with his accuracy, but eventually pulling things together for a strong finish.

What wasn’t shaky, though, was Milroe’s world-renowned ability with his legs. The speedster scored the first touchdown of the game in the first quarter, scampering 35 yards and outrunning the entire defense up the middle of the field off a quarterback keeper that showcased his biggest strength.

As the game continued, Simpson began to show his abilities as a passer. He looked sharp and decisive, especially on short routes, and looked comfortable for the majority of the game. He posted a final stat line of 12-for-26 passing for 155 yards, and while he threw one interception, it was due to a pro-level play on the ball from redshirt freshman defensive back Earl Little Jr. that drew audible reactions from the crowd.

Late in the second quarter an unexpected name made a mark on the game in early enrollee freshman quarterback Dylan Lonergan. Lonergan took command of the Crimson team offense filling in for Simpson, completing 4-of-5 passes for 59 yards in a drive that resulted in a rushing touchdown from fellow early enrollee Justice Haynes.

“I think Dylan Lonergan has shown that he’s got a little bit more poise playing the position,” Saban said. “He’s accurate throwing the ball. […] Dylan kind of moved the team a little better.”

Haynes took the game by storm, and proved why there had been so much buzz surrounding the should-be high school senior all spring. He scored a game-high three touchdowns, two on the ground and one receiving, while amassing 64 total yards.

“Justice is a really good player, he’s had a great spring,” Saban said. “He’s got great maturity about him. You wouldn’t know he was a freshman if you didn’t know better. Nothing is too big for him in terms of learning, going out and executing, he’s not intimidated by anything.”

While the coverage from the back end of the defense was stellar all game, the secondary and linebacking corps for the Crimson team got after every quarterback for the White team all afternoon. The Crimson defense totaled 10 sacks in the game, led by three from senior defensive back Malachi Moore.

“Malachi’s just a very instinctive player,” Saban said. “That makes him an effective blitzer because he’s reading it the right way. … He’s been a good leader in the secondary all spring long.”

Despite the constant pressure in the backfield, Milroe had one last chance to make a statement with the game’s final minutes waning. Though the game was out of reach in terms of the score, Milroe led a perfectly executed 2-minute drive highlighted by three catches from JUCO transfer wide receiver Malik Benson. Milroe capped the drive off with his second 20-plus yard touchdown of the day, bringing his final stat line to 19-for-37 passing for 245 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

None of the quarterbacks were perfect, but a drop problem that seemed to spread like wildfire across nearly half the receivers in the game hindered the numbers for many of the signal-callers.

“You’ve got to eliminate some of the negative plays,” Saban said. “Which would be interceptions, which would be turning the ball over, which would be dropping balls, which we had too many of today. We made some good plays, though, too.”

With spring football now in the rearview mirror, the next time Alabama will trot out under the lights of Bryant-Denny Stadium will be for the season opener against Middle Tennessee State in September. Until then, Saban and his staff will be working to have the 2023 iteration of Alabama football ready to make a return to the College Football Playoff.

“I like this team, I look forward to this team,” Saban said. “Are there things we need to do better, no doubt. And we’ll focus on those things and work to improve so that they’re not issues for us in the fall.”

Questions or comments? Email Blake Byler (Sports Editor) at [email protected]