TUSCALOOSA — Alabama will be without the gem of its top-rated 2019 signing class “indefinitely” after former five-star running back Trey Sanders suffered a serious foot injury Thursday.
“Trey Sanders did not scrimmage today because he had a foot injury that will require surgery,” Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban said following the team’s first preseason scrimmage Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. “So he will be out indefinitely.”
Sanders, who was spotted on crutches and with a walking boot prior to Saturday’s scrimmage, is expected to undergo surgery to repair his broken left foot next week.
Sanders, who was the nation’s No. 1 tailback and the sixth overall player in the 2019 class, according to 247Sports.com’s composite rankings, is expected to miss the entire season after reportedly suffering the injury on the final play of Thursday’s practice, according to AL.com.
Alabama’s injury bug bit even harder during Saturday’s scrimmage when redshirt senior linebacker Joshua McMillon, who was expected to begin the season as the team’s starting weakside/Will linebacker, suffered “a potential knee injury,” according to Saban, that will require further medical evaluation to determine its significance.
It’s a “concerning” and potentially devastating blow to the Crimson Tide’s inside linebacker depth that was already thin on experience coming into the preseason, and is only exasperated depending on how long McMillon is out of action.
As a precaution, the Tide also held out junior middle linebacker Dylan Moses for the second straight day Saturday, regulating the on-field reps of one of its most important players with three weeks left before the season opener against Duke in Atlanta.
Redshirt senior offensive lineman Matt Womack also sat out the scrimmage and remains “day-to-day” with an undisclosed ailment. That was in addition to junior defensive end LaBryan Ray (ankle) and junior cornerback Nigel Knott (undisclosed medical issue), neither of whom have participated at all this preseason.
“We expect LaBryan Ray to return to practice and start doing some of those things here in the very near future,” Saban said. “It’s important that we get some of those guys healthy so we can get them enough work that they’ll be able to play in the first game.”
Sanders is just the latest in a string of injuries to some of Alabama’s talented true freshmen, with potential starting nose guard D.J. Dale also missing the last several days of practice with a sprained knee, according to Saban. Defensive back Brandon Turnage participated in Saturday’s scrimmage after sitting out Friday’s practice with a twisted ankle.
With Dale and Ray out of action, Alabama’s first-team defensive line featured senior end Raekwon Davis, redshirt sophomore Phidarian Mathis at nose guard and true freshman end Justin Eboigbe.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys playing out there … so it’s an opportunity for a lot of those guys to get a lot of work,” Saban said, “but they’re also young players that probably don’t have good enough knowledge and experience right now to have enough confidence to go out there and do it and execute with any kind of consistency. All we care about is this is where they are and this is what we need to do to fix them.”
By all accounts, the 6-foot and 214-pound Sanders had been impressing during the first week of preseason camp while working with the first- and second-team offense, usually as either the third or fourth running back in the rotation.
“Trey Sanders is doing really, really well in camp,” Saban said last week. “His work ethic is really good. He's learning every day. His attention to detail seems to be pretty good. He's got some ability that may be able to contribute to the team.”
Since famously predicting he’d win the Heisman Trophy as a true freshman during his National Signing Day announcement in February, Sanders has carried significant expectations, with many believing the former IMG playmaker could challenge juniors and expected starters Najee Harris and Brian Robinson Jr. for playing time this season.
Instead, Sanders’ loss further elevates the importance of Harris and Robinson becoming steady and reliable lead options out of the backfield. It also means redshirt freshman Jerome Ford and true freshman scatback Keilan Robinson could see more opportunities this season than originally anticipated.
Ford was Alabama’s leading rusher in Saturday’s scrimmage, according to Saban, though that was likely due to an increased number of carries as coaches regulated the reps of Harris and Robinson Jr.
“I think Jerome Ford was probably the leading rusher out there but he probably ran the ball more than anybody else,” Saban said, “and I think Keilan had some explosive runs and played fast and probably gives us something some of our other guys don’t have when it comes to just being quick, fast and elusive.”
Backup QB ‘played well’ in scrimmage
Among all the positional battles going on this spring, arguably the one under the most scrutiny is at backup quarterback, where redshirt sophomore Mac Jones is competing against a pair of talented true freshmen legacies in Taulia Tagovailoa and Paul Tyson.
But at least according to his head coach, Jones more than held his own during Saturday’s scrimmage.
“Mac played well today, he had a really good day,” Saban said of Jones. “He had a high completion percentage, threw for some big plays, really did a good job, some of it against the first defense. … I thought he did a really good job of trying to lead the team when he was in there and did a good job.”
As usual, no statistics were provided from the scrimmage.
Saban encouraged by kickers
Amid all the injury concerns, Nick Saban sounded downright excited by the progress of Alabama’s kicking situation, especially when it comes to the development of true freshman Will Reichard.
The three-star Hoover prospect, who has been working at both place kicker and punter since arriving this spring, was reportedly perfect in multiple field-goal opportunities during Saturday’s scrimmage. He has shown a strong and consistent leg throughout camp.
“They did really well today,” Saban said. “I don’t know what the stats were but both punters, Will (Reichard) and Skyler (DeLong) both punted the ball really well. Will was really good on field goals. I think Joe (Bulovas) was pretty good on field goals as well. I think there’s a lot of competition there. It was really encouraging.”