Saban Sees Good, Bad In Scrimmage

One of the givens when a football team has a scrimmage is that both the offense and the defense can't look good when playing against one another. That doesn't mean that the team isn't good. But usually, if one side struggles, the coach can point to the other side with optimism.

Alabama had its second (and final) scrimmage of fall camp at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday on the day the Crimson Tide had received 58 of 60 votes as the nation's number one team in the Associated Press pre-season poll. Bama Coach Nick Saban said he "wasn't real pleased "with the performance of the offensive line.

So, it seemed, that would mean the defensive line had a good day.

Not so fast.

"I've think we've got a long way to go in pass rush," Saban said.

That doesn't mean it was a bad scrimmage, though.

Saban said, "I think there was definitely a lot of improvement in a lot of players from the last scrimmage to this scrimmage, which is certainly what we want to try and accomplish in terms of practice. But I also think that we looked a little bit slow because we probably are right now. I mean we've practiced, what, 19 times or this is the 19th practice that we've had now in just a little over two weeks.

"Now we've got to get our team back, we've got to get healthy, we've got to get guys ready to play. That's got to be the focus of what we need to do. I think there were a lot of good things out there today, but I also think there are a lot of things we need to improve on. We've still got to improve in our ability to get movement in the running game on offense. We have to keep a solid pocket for our quarterback so he has a chance to operate and do things. We've got to be able to throw and catch the ball effectively so that we can be an efficient, effective passing team. We probably had more drops today than normal. Lack of focus, lack of concentration, say what you will about it, but that's something we need to work on."

Asked about the offensive line – which had Cyrus Kouandjio at left tackle and Arie Kouandjio at right tackle with Austin Shepherd at left guard and Anthony Steen at right guard, Ryan Kelly at center – Saban said, "I wasn't real pleased with the way they played today, to be honest with you. I've always been really pleased with the way our offensive line has played and progressed, but I thought today we didn't get a lot of movement. Too many times we had a soft pocket, we got pressure in the pocket, made some mental errors up front, had a couple false starts – things that our offensive line typically has not done. So hopefully this will be something they can learn from and improve on and we'll get better and continue to progress."

So did that mean the defensive line had a good day?

"I think we've got a long way to go in pass rush," Saban said. "It's inconsistent. I think we have more athletic guys. I think we have more guys that can be good edge rushers. I think there's a discipline in pass rush that guys really have to learn to understand. It's not all about sacks. You get pushed by the QB, even if you pressure the QB, if you get pushed by the QB it doesn't do any good. If you're an inside rusher and you can move the line of scrimmage four yards back, to where the quarterback can't step up and throw the ball down the middle of the field, you can be a very effective rusher and make it difficult for the quarterback to operate and not really sack him.

"I think our guys, they want to beat a guy with a move and get in there and make an immediate whatever. Sometimes you do that, and there's a time for that. But you can't guess it. You can't guess it. You can't guess when you're playing corner whether a guy's going to run an in or an out. You've got to read it. And you've got to read how a guy pass blocks to know how you should rush. And that's the thing that I think we need to get better at. I really do. As a group and individually, so that we can get a little more consistent in pushing the pocket and making it difficult for the quarterback to operate. Hands up, bat balls. Those types of things. Rather than just worrying about sacks."

The raw statistics from the scrimmage were not particularly impressive, although the nature of the work doesn't take into account several factors.

Quarterback A.J. McCarron completed 15 of 30 passes for 152 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. Dee Hart was the leading rusher with seven carries for 42 yards and T.J. Yeldon had five runs for 39 yards. Christion Jones was the leading receiver with four cagches for 37 yards; Kevin Norwood had three receptions for 36 yards; and DeAndrew White had two catches for 33 yards. McCarron and Blake Sims both had short touchdown passes and Cooper Bateman had a 33-yard touchdown pass. Derrick Henry had a two-yard touchdown run, Tyren Jones ran in from 20 yards, and Kenyan Drake had a nine-yard scoring run.

On defense, Adrian Hubbard had seven tackles and three sacks; John Fulton six tackles and a sack; C.J. Mosley five tackles, a sack, and a fumble recovery; Landon Collins five tackles; Ed Stinson four tackles and a sack; and Vinnie Sunseri four tackles, a tackle for loss, and a pass broken up.

Cody Mundell had eight punts for a 41.8 average with a long of 52.

Saban said there were a number of players who didn't get much playing time. He also mentioned last year's leading receiver, Amari Cooper, continuing to be held out of contact work as he recovers from a foot sprain. He said that Cooper should be able to work when the Tide finishes its two off days and returns to the practice field Tuesday. Defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan was also held out after suffering a rotator cuff sprain Friday, but said he should be back soon. Defensive lineman Wilson Love was also held out with what Saban said was "a little bit of a ding."

During the scrimmage, nose tackle Brandon Ivory suffered a twisted knee. Saban said he would be evaluated and a decision would be made Sunday on his status.

Alabama gets two days off before returning to the practice field Tuesday.

"We always do it this way," Saban said. He explained that the first Sunday of fall camp is a practice day so the Tide can have Fan Day. "That means we have an extra day off. I think two days off does a player 100 times more good than one day off in terms of their ability to recover, come back, get rest, get their legs back, get their energy back, kind of refuel so to speak. So we always do this at the end of camp. We've always done this every year at the end of camp - give players two days off. I'm a big believer in it, and that's why we will not practice tomorrow or Monday. The players will lift on Monday and we'll watch the film, but no practice."

Saban said, "The big thing I tried to emphasize with the players is we have to have a certain level of the way we compete, the way we're relentless competitors when we come to this stadium and play no matter who we're playing or what we're playing and not not have the right mental intensity, sense of urgency, immediacy, focus on what we're doing right now, discipline. We had some undisciplined penalties today that were disappointing whether they were false starts, a couple of defensive offsides, a couple of illegal formations. Those types of things to me, especially when experienced players do them, are just lack of focus, lack of concentration. And you can say, 'Yeah, they make them because they're tired.' But you know you've got to say, 'No' too. 'I'm not tired. I've got to do what I've got to do to get better.' That's really what we need from our players right now.

"I think there are three things that are really important that we don't have. We can't have complacency, can't be satisfied with where we are. No matter what any poll says this team hasn't done anything to create their own identity. They need to be focused on what they want to be and what they can accomplish and what they're willing to do to accomplish it. Can't have selfishness on the team because that will fracture the team chemistry. We can't lose our accountability and attention to detail. Those three things right there are very important in us being the kind of team we're capable of being. Everybody's got to make that choice and decision are they willing to do the things they need to do to do it."

Saban said that fall camp isn't over. The team will not begin to work on the game plan for the season opener against Virginia Tech until later in the week. Bama opens the season against the Hokies on Aug. 31 – two weeks from today – at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

The coach said that "Players get bored after awhile. So you have a regular week, we usually do a pretty good job of preparing our players for what they're going to see. A lot of times we see something different that we would have never known how to prepare them because we don't know what we're going to see. I think for a first game, an extra couple practices is probably good for players to develop confidence in what they need to do. So this first Tuesday and Wednesday we will still work on other things that we're going to see in the season. We'll probably start game prep for Virginia Tech on Thursday or Friday, get a couple extra practices in, and go from there."

He said that McCarron "has taken 90 per cent of the reps with the first team all through camp. Blake Sims has probably taken 10 per cent. In both scrimmages, Blake played one series, had a pretty good series, moved the ball down the field and kicked a field goal today when Blake was in there. And then we've picked a third quarterback, which we probably need to make a decision about. Today we gave Luke Del Rio a chance. We practiced him this week a lot, gave him some reps. And last week it was Alec Morris. We've got too many guys to try to give everybody a turn every day. So I think that we'll have to make a decision based on what the players did today and see who continues to progress and who should be the third.

"Blake's biggest problem is forcing the ball. He actually played pretty well today, but he threw three interceptions. And they were all what I call ‘hope throws.' The guy wasn't really open, he was just hoping the guy was going to make a play, but the defensive player made the play. If he can eliminate those, he can be an effective passer; he's really improved in that regard. So it's really the next guy that we really need to decide on."

He said that cornerback Deion Belue, who has been out with a hamstring injury, was able to take "two-thirds of the reps."

Saban points out that LaMichael Fanning had returned to work on the defensive line after having worked with the tight ends through much of fall camp. He added that Brandon Greene, a 6-5, 307-pound offensive lineman, is now working at tight end.

Saban said, "He's a very athletic guy for his size and runs halfway decent for his size, too, and has really good hands – was a high school basketball player. And he's really heavy on the edge. So he's a really, really good blocker and I think can be an adequate possession receiver as a tight end."

The coach said Fanning has "done a really good job for us. I think he might be a guy who can give us an inside pass rush. He's a big ol' tall guy with long arms. He did it yesterday and was effective. So we're hoping that he can continue to develop in that regard."

Saban said a number of men can be punt and kickoff return men, naming Christion Jones, Cyrus Jones, Dee Hart, Deandrew White, Chris Black, and Amaric Cooper. "We have plenty of guys that can do it," he said.

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