Saban Discusses Players, Groups

Derrick Henry is on the front burner. Darren Lake is on the back burner. Nick Saban was doing a slow burn after a question that wasn't worded to his liking.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban discussed some individuals and some groups as the Crimson Tide returned to the practice field following spring break Monday.

Derrick Henry finished the 2013 season on a high note with two big touchdown plays against Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. He twice pulled Bama to within a touchdown of the Sooners with his big plays, a 43-yard burst in which he smoked a safety, and a shot pass that he turned into a 61-yard touchdown with a combination of strength, speed, and agility.

Saban said Henry, a 6-3, 241-pound sophomore tailback, "has had a great spring, done a really good job. He's playing just like he left off. He's got a lot of confidence now. He understands what to do. He plays fast, he's very physical. He's had an outstanding spring."

Darren Lake has not been able to pick up where he left off. Lake, a 6-3, 323-pound upcoming junior nose tackle, was a back-up to Brandon Ivory last year.

Saban said that Lake injured a pectoral muscle prior to the start of spring practice and had to have surgery. "He will make a full recovery and will be back," Saban said. "He'll miss spring practice, but he'll be back when we start summer conditioning. It won't be a problem for him. He was doing extremely well in the off-season program."

There wasn't much to discuss when Saban got a question about the kickers. "We have only one kicker here," the coach said. "Adam Griffith is doing eally well. We kicked field goals today, and he did a really good job. He's done a great job of kicking off. I think he kicked nine balls today on kickoffs and probably five of them were out of the end zone.

"I've been really pleased with Adam Griffith. He's done a really good job, but we just don't have a lot to evaluate there right now."

Alabama signed a punter for 2014, but the big news wasn't about J.K. Scott from Denver. "We won't be able to evaluate him until he gets here in the fall," Saban said. "It's sort of the situation that we started here with Cody Mandell when he punted when he was a freshman."

Saban also said that there were walk-on punters in spring camp. The spring roster includes Adrian Lamothe, a sophomore punter from Monterrey, Mexico. But the big news wasn't about him, either.

Saban said, "We've actually even worked Alec Morris a little bit as a punter. He was a high school punter." That was news.

It is something along the lines of "old news" that Defensive Coordinator Kirby Smart has moved back to coaching safeties after a couple of years working with inside linebackers.

Saban said, "I've always liked it when Kirby coaches the secondary. I think it's really hard for one guy to coach the secondary.

"I'm really sort of his [graduate assistant]."

While Smart tutors the safeties, Saban coaches the cornerbacks.

"I thought last year, we didn't play with enough consistency back there," Saban said. "We had a lot of different rotating parts, different starters, different corners starting. We've got to come up with some guys that can develop some consistency."

He pointed out that the secondary will be without several players who were regulars in the secondary, including starting safeties HaHa Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri and cornerbacks Deion Belue and John Fulton.

But, Saban said, "We've got some guys coming back that can be really good players, but their leadership, their confidence, their ability to quarterback and make adjustments in the secondary and develop the kind of chemistry back there that people have confidence in, I think, is going to be critical for this spring practice and something that we've got to do a better job of. I just think that our consistency back there last year is something that we really want to improve on. Players are working hard to do it.

"I'm not satisfied with the progress that we've made but I've been pleased with the attitude and effort that we've gotten so far."

Saban also said he was "pleased with the progress" in the offensive line. He also said before the end of spring that he'd look at players in different offensive line positions, seeing if a better chemistry can be found, but also preparing for the possibility of a player having to move to a new spot. He also noted that new offensive line candidates would be arriving in the summer.

Mentioning a few individuals, Saban said:

"Center) Ryan Kelly has really done a good job. Austin Shepherd has done a really good job at right tackle providing leadership for these guys. (Left guard) Arie Kouandjio has done a good job so far. (Left tackle) Leon Brown is working and making progress.

"(Tackle/tight end) Brandon Greene has made progress. (Freshman left tackle) Cam Robinson is a young guy that's learning and getting better every day. Grant Hill is playing some center and right tackle, too, and doing a good job. Shank (right guard Alphonse Taylor) is making progress.

"All these guys have a ways to go. We're not satisfied with where they are, but we're pleased with the progress they're making."

So far, so good. But then a question that assumed good depth in the defensive line disagreed with Saban.

He pointed out that Alabama lost two starters from the defensive line (ends Ed Stinson and Jeoffrey Pagan) and took issue with Bama having good defensive line based on how it appeared on paper.

"They've got a long way to go," Saban said. "I'm not satisfied with the way any of them are playing, if you want to know the truth about it. They've got to be more aggressive, physical, play with better leverage, hold the point better, rush the passer better. I didn't think that last year was one of our best years up front, and even though we have a couple new players competing and Dalvin Tomlinson back, I think all of them have a ways to go.

"A'Shawn Robinson has a lot of ability, but I think we need to get him in shape and he's got to play with better focus and intensity down-in and down-out to be more consistent.

"So defensively we have a ways to go to improve to get back to the level and our standard of what we like to play here."

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