First Tide Scrimmage Pleases Nick Saban

Alabama’s football team had its first scrimmage of the spring Friday and Alabama Coach Nick Saban said he was pleased with several aspects of the two-hour, 125-play exhibition at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The bad news was an injury to a running back, an area where the Crimson Tide is somewhat thin.

Alabama’s players will have the Easter weekend off and resume practice Monday.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban said, “I think the spirit was good, I think the enthusiasm was good overall, a lot of guys giving a lot of effort. I really like the spirit of how this team goes about what they do. Obviously, the execution is not what we’d like for it to be on a consistent basis. There were a lot of good things out there. There’s also a lot of things that we need to clean up.”

The bad news from the scrimmage was that freshman tailback Bo Scarborough suffered a nee injury. Saban said Scarborough “was injured right at the end of the scrimmage. I don’t know the extent of his injury.” Other than that he said there were no injuries, although junior offensive lineman Alphonse Taylor was held out of the scrimmage as he rehabilitates a knee injury. Saban said he expected Taylor to return to practice Monday.

The Tide coach said Scarbrough “was doing pretty well. Saban noted that the running back position, which looked to be strong, has been depleted. Kenyan Drake is practicing, but is in a black jersey, signifying no contact. Altee Tenpenny left the team following last season and Tyren Jones was dismissed from the Tide after being arrested and charged with possession of marijuana.

Junior Derrick Henry, the top rusher for Bama last year, led the offense Friday with 112 yards rushing on 11 carries with a 68 yard touchdown run. Scarbrough added 36 yards on the ground and punched in two touchdowns while also catching three passes.  

Saban said, “Derrick Henry had a pretty good day. Kenyan Drake, even though he wore a black shirt out there and we just tagged off of him, was very effective in some of the things that he did in the running game and the passing game. It’s good to have him back out there. Our receivers just need to learn how to pay attention to detail and how important it is to do little things right so that we’re all on the same page in the passing game. “Kenyan has been able to do everything. He actually ran a 4.4 when we tested right before. I can't say that he's 100 per cent, but I think that - the big thing we're trying to do is to get him all the reps we can get him, but not bang him around too much that he has a problem with his ankle and then once we get through the spring he'll have a significant amount of time to be able to get some rest and get in better condition, but he's really done well.”  

Junior Raheem Falkins led the receivers with 88 yards on five receptions while Ardarius Stewart caught three passes for 65 yards and a score. Tight end O.J. Howard had two catches for 58 yards, including a 50 yard touchdown reception, and Robert Foster had three receptions for 52 yards.   

 Saban said, “We sort of rotated all the quarterbacks today, so it’s probably a little bit more difficult for any one guy to get a rhythm. They all played, probably, a similar number of plays – maybe 30, 40 plays apiece – and all of them did some good things and all of them have some things that they can improve on. I think the big thing when it comes to offense is everybody’s got to trust and believe in what we need to do and everybody’s got to go do their job. We’ve got to develop some trust and confidence in each other so that we execute a little bit better on a more consistent basis.”

Asked about senior quarterback Jake Coker, Saban said, “I think the biggest thing is, he's more comfortable in the system. He's playing with more confidence. I just think that, the system that we're playing now is better suited for him, in terms of what we're putting on him to do, actually playing him in the gun a little bit more, which is probably more suited for him.

“All the other quarterbacks did a pretty good job today. (Redshirt freshman David) Cornwell did a pretty good job, Alec Morris, Blake Barnett, all those guys did a pretty good job. There's a lot of competition at this position. Really pleased with the way Jake has sort of practiced, but we just got to keep getting him to where he feels comfortable and confident and gets in sync with the receivers so that we can execute a little bit better on a more consistent basis. And it's not all on him, it's on all of us to get that done.”

Which led to the question of sophomore quarterback Cooper Bateman working with the wide receivers.

Saban said, “I think that, we think that, when you have a really good athlete on your team, and you feel like he can make a contribution - he was doing well at quarterback, we have not moved him from quarterback, he still takes reps in practice at quarterback. But I just thought that maybe we could create a role that might be beneficial for our team and maybe be beneficial to him, because he's such a good athlete. You know, he had really good measurables when we tested everybody. If we just rated the top 50 athletes on our team, he'd probably be one of them. So now is the time to find out if he could contribute at another position.”

As for the offensive line, Saban said, “We’re really pleased with the two tackles. Cam Sims and Dominick Jackson have really done a nice job this spring. (Center) Ryan Kelly has done a really good job this spring. Ross Pierschbacher has really done a good job this spring. I think those four guys have really made progress.

“Then we’ve got another four or five guys in a pile that are kind of competing for the rest of the positions. Bradley Bozeman probably has the most experience. I think depth there is critical. Brandon Greene is back playing there. J.C. Hassenauer has made progress as a backup center. I think there’s work to do, but I really do think four guys have sort of separated themselves and we need some other guys to play with more consistency so we can have the kind of offensive line that we want to have. Then depth is going to be a huge issue for us to develop our young players.”

Saban said, “The defensive front is probably the strength of our team right now. I think those guys showed that a little bit today – made it difficult to run and created a lot of negative plays with batted balls and pressures on the quarterback, that type of thing. As the scrimmage went on, I thought the offense sort of got in a little bit of rhythm and actually played better as the scrimmage went on – which is a good thing.

“Defensively, we got to play a lot of players in the two-deep. I thought there was a lot of good hitting out there. The tackling was pretty good for the most part for this time of the spring. As I said before, I thought the front guys were probably the strength of our team. We had some young guys playing in the secondary. They got some valuable experience today – made some mistakes, but I think all things that they can learn from.”

Senior linebacker Reggie Ragland paced an active Alabama defense with five tackles, one tackle for loss, three pass breakups and a fumble recovery. A’Shawn Robinson intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown while making three tackles with a tackle for loss. Dalvin Tomlinson added four stops with a fumble recovery and a pass breakup.

Saban evaluated the inside linebackers. He said, “I’m really pleased with the way the linebackers have played this spring. Reggie Ragland’s having a really good spring. He’s really assumed the role of being a leader. Reuben Foster’s had a really good spring. Shaun Dion Hamilton has had a really good spring. So I’m really pleased with the way those guys have improved and developed. Keith Holcombe has really shown that he can play that position. Walker Jones has actually done a much better job this spring. So I’m really encouraged by all five of those guys and how they’ve played.”

Asked about true freshman safety Ronnie Harrison, Saban said, “Ronnie is a bright guy. For a guy that's a new freshman in the system, he’s done extremely well. He does have a lot of athletic ability and got great size and speed. Really has done a nice job. He and Hootie Jones; we moved Maurice Smith in there; all those guys are guys that we feel have to develop some confidence, knowledge, and experience in the system, made some mental errors today, but also made some really good plays. And that's been the case throughout. If we can eliminate those mental errors, which I think we can, they can gain a little more confidence in what they're doing, I think those guys have the ability to improve and be good players for us.”

Saban said, “The specialists did a good job for what we asked them to do today, whether it was punting or kicking.

Saban said, “All in all, I think that we’re not satisfied with where we are right now, but we’re certainly not disappointed. We know what we have to do to get better. I think everybody’s commitment and focus to do those things are really important. I think discipline is something that is really important to this team in terms of their development. Choices, decisions, how they buy in to the mission of what we’re trying to accomplish, how the team chemistry develops is something that I think is going to be very important to this group.”

Alabama’s A-Day Game is Saturday, April 18, at 2 p.m. CDT in Bryant-Denny Stadium. There is no admission charge. A-The game will be broadcast on SEC Network+ with Joe Tessitore calling the action, Greg McElroy as the analyst, and Shannon Spake reporting from the sidelines. >

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