Stuart McNair

Alabama Coach Nick Saban discusses a first scrimmage that was as expected

Alabama’s first scrimmage had a lot of good, but also a lot where improvement needed

Nothing could have been more predictable than Alabama Coach Nick Saban’s opening statement following Alabama’s two-hour scrimmage at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday. It was the eighth practice of spring training and the first scrimmage.


Saban said, “I can’t really every say that I’m pleased with anything around here, but I guess, relatively speaking, this scrimmage was a lot like you would expect a first scrimmage to be. There were a lot of good things and there were a lot of things that need to be cleaned up.


I think this scrimmage was a little simpler than it’s going to be most of the time. We wanted to keep it simple so players weren’t confused about what they were supposed to do and we could evaluate how they compete, what their toughness is, the kind of attitude they have, what they’re trying to do and what kind of effort they give. I was pleased with the group for the most part.


Spring practice isn’t expected to determine a starting lineup, certainly not at the halfway mark in the first scrimmage. For one thing, Saban uses the scrimmage to give many players opportunities in different groups, and that’s particularly true as Alabama has begun the process of finding a new starting quarterback for the third time in as many seasons.


Saban said, “We’re looking at a lot of people in a lot of different circumstances and situations and we rotated the quarterbacks a lot trying to give everybody an opportunity, which probably affected the continuity on offense.

“The offense really started out well, had two great drives at the beginning of the scrimmage – and then (was) a little bit hit or miss after that.


“But I thought the effort was good, toughness was good. Got a lot of turns for a lot of players that needed knowledge and experience. I think the No. 1 thing about this is it really doesn’t matter about the result that anybody got out there today. It’s what are your goals? What do you need to do to accomplish the goals that you have? What sacrifices do you need to make? Who do you need to work with? Are you going to make the kind of choices and decisions to do the things you need to do to be the best that you can be and create the right habits so that you’ve got a chance to play winning football?

“This gives us a great indication of where we are and what we need to do to improve. That’s kind of how I look at it.


“If we were where we needed to be we wouldn’t need to practice the rest of the spring or next fall camp, we’d just go play the first game. We’re definitely not ready to do that. But I was encouraged by some of the guys out there.”


As for individuals, Saban had praise for tailback Bo Scarbrough, wide receiver ArDarius Stewart, and said “some of the the young quarterbacks made some plays. David Cornwell threw the ball fairly well.”


In a release of limited experience from the closed scrimmage (closed to the public and media, but open to several thousand spectators, including former football players, Red Elephant Club boosters, and various sponsors) showed Scarbrough, the sophomore tailback many expect to replace Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry with 9 carries for 132 yards and 3 touchdowns. (One of his runs was a 96-yard touchdown gallop.)


Freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts had 10 carries for 57 yards and Damien Harris 12 rushes for 36 yards. Stewart had 7 catches for 100 yards and 2 TDs and Calvin Ridley 3 receptions for 50 yards.


As is frequently the case in spring scrimmages, quarrterback passing statistics were not released. Saban has previously pointed out that quarterback statistics in a spring scrimmage are skewed by the quarterbacks playing with different offenses and against different defenses.


Speaking of defense, Saban said, “{They] batted some balls down, got some turnovers, made some good plays.”


Defensive leaders were end Dalvin Tomlinson with 8 tackles, including 2 sacks, and 2 passes broken up; linebacker Rashaan Evans with 8 tackles, including a sack; linebacker Reuben Foster with 7 tackles and an interception; and linebacker Ryan Anderson with 7 tackles, including a sack.



“When you’re playing against yourself, when one team does well that means the other team didn’t do so well,” Saban said. “It’s kind of hard to figure out sometimes. You’ve  just got to sort of say, okay, this is where every individual is, and here is where we need to go to get where we want to get. Everybody needs to make a choice and decision. Everybody has the right to fail, but they don’t have the right to fail for their teammates.

“So everybody needs to make a commitment to the people that are planning on them. I’ve been pleased with the progress this team’s made so far. So we just need to continue to finish up and try to get better.


“Obviously, it doesn’t help when you have three or four starters who aren’t out there. It affects the depth at every position. We’re trying guys at different positions. So now’s the time that we want to find out who can do what, so we’re not doing that experimenting in the fall during the season.”


Saban took questions on various subjects. Here are his replies:


Regarding Bo Scarbrough being a complete back:


“I think he’s got things that he can improve on. I certainly think he’s capable of doing all the things that we need him to do. I think part of it is confidence, knowledge, experience. Having confidence in what he’s supposed to do, how he’s supposed to do it, why it’s important to do it that way. I think when he understands that he plays fast and he’s very effective. So those are the kinds of things that we can improve on. I like his work ethic, I like his toughness. I think there’s things that we need to improve on, but we’re encouraged by what he’s done to this point.”


On filling the opening at cornerback with Marlon Humphrey returning, but Cyrus Jones having graduated:


Minkah’s (sophomore Minkah Fitzpatrick) been playing corner, Marlon’s been doing a nice job at corner. Mo’s (Maurice Smith) been playing some Star, Tony Brown’s been playing Star, Tony Brown’s back to playing corner. Minkah’s playing Star sometimes. Anthony Averett’s done a nice job, really made some improvement. I don’t feel like we have enough depth. We moved Mo to safety–Maurice Smith–because Eddie’s (returning starting safety Eddie Jackson) out. I like the attitude that the players have. I like the work ethic. They made some plays today and they made some mistakes today.”


On quarterback play on a windy day:


They made some good throws today. There were some inconsistencies in the passing game When I say that, I’m not just talking about quarterbacks throwing the ball. I’m talking about the protection, the receivers running the right routes, the timing, all those things.


“I think the thing that affects the passing game and the kicking game as much as anything is the wind, and it was really windy. And it was a cross wind, so that makes it even more difficult.


“There were some good plays made today. I’m encouraged by all those guys. I think the big thing is each and every one of them can’t be thinking about where I am on the depth chart, what my position is and worry about that. They need to worry about what they need to do to be better so they can play winning football at the position and do the things that they need to do to become a really good quarterback. I think they’ve done a pretty good job of that so far.”


And also on the quarterbacks, has anyone taken the bull by the horns insofar as winning the team:


“No. I think two things have to happen. I think a guy has to win his teammates over, but I think you’ve also got to be put a guy in position to be able to do that. We rotated a lot of guys around today. We’re trying to give everybody a chance right now. We’ll evaluate how they did on film and divvy up the reps for next week.”


On offensive line play:


Lester Cotton has done a really good job. He’s played at left tackle, right tackle and we’ve played him at guard some.  Korren Kirven has done a really nice job. He hurt his foot a little bit and missed a practice or two but we’ve been really encouraged by what he’s been able to do. Really like Ross (Pierschbacher) at center. I think he’s done a nice job and made that transition fairly well. The young guards are getting better, talking about Dallas (Warmack) and Brandon Kennedy. We’re working hard to get the best five guys on the field. The young guys, we’ve had some of the freshman guys who have made progress. Jonah Williams has really played nicely and actually played left tackle today with the first team and did a really nice job. I feel better about the number of guys that we have to coach and develop on the offensive line. We need to see what we need to do to get the best five guys out there.”


On young players:


"Well that's pretty general, we got a lot of underclassmen, we got a lot of young guys but I thought that the focus, the intensity after Wednesday was better on Friday when we practiced, and I thought it was pretty good today. I liked the energy and enthusiasm of the players. I just don't think the execution is really maybe what it needs to be. I don't want to point out some young guy and then leave out somebody else so we're trying to bring them all along. I think the more guys that we can bring along to play winning football, the better chance we have to be successful in the fall."


On working on quarterback Blake Barnett’s alleged wind-up passing technique:


"No. Did you ever see Bernie Kosar throw the ball? The best thing we can do is go like this [he put his hand in an eyeshade] and just watch where the ball goes. If it's accurate and it's on time and he's got enough arm strength then you kind of don't worry too much about it. If the mechanics of how he throws the ball affects those things then I think you need to worry about it. He doesn't really wind up, he just takes the ball back, but he is accurate, he does have adequate arm strength. So we don't feel like we need to tinker with the way he throws the ball to be honest with you because [of] his knowledge and experience, his confidence of sitting in the pocket, and making plays on time. With the young guys -- it's to get him, both young guys, both freshmen, to try to make the play that're there, and don't think you have to make every play and go rat trap on things when you could just execute and do what everybody expects you to do. I think that's just a matter of developing confidence and timing in what you're doing and I think it just takes time and repetition to do that. So I think both those young guys, that's what I would be more concerned about both of them doing."


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