As Alabama reached the 10th practice of Alabama Coach Nick Saban’s 10th Crimson Tide spring training, he had a rose among the thorns insofar as the injury situation is concerned.
Saban had previously discussed the knee injury suffered by redshirt freshman offensive lineman Richie Petitbon in last Saturday’s Alabama scrimmage. He reiterated that Monday’s surgery “went really well,” and said, “we expect a full recovery for him.”
Saban then added that two men who have made up two-thirds of the first team defensive line this spring were out of practice Wednesday, listing Da’Shawn Hand as having to leave practice with back spasms and Dalvin Tomlinson being ill.
But he also had good news. Senior safety Eddie Jackson, the most valuable defensive player in the College Football Playoff national championship game victory over Clemson, has been in a black (no contact) jersey all spring as he recuperated from off-season knee surgery. On Wednesday, he was back on the field.
“He’s starting to do some stuff, so that’s good for him,” Saban said.
Alabama will have its second scrimmage of the spring at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday. Bama concludes spring practice with it’s a-Day Game on April 16.
Saban said, “This is a week where we're really focused on trying to make a lot of improvement based on what we saw in the scrimmage. I'm never quite as pleased as I would like to be based on what we do. When you're practicing against each other, if one team (offense or defense) does something good, that means the other team probably didn't do it quite so well so that's a little bit of an issue.
“The things I think we definitely want to be able to continue to have is we got to give effort, play with toughness. We have to have more guys who can execute and do their job without making mental errors. Every time we have a mental error, we have a bad play. I don't care if it's on offense, defense, or special teams.
“We can control those three things. It doesn't take a lot of ability to be responsible, know what to do or give effort. That's a choice. Play with toughness, that's a choice. That's something I think we need to stay focused on and push the players through so that we can make the kind of improvement that we need to make.”
Saban said the nature of spring practice at Alabama is that there is likely to be some confusion.
“We overload our players with things that, typically, this time of year are things we see from other teams that we don’t see from our own team. That makes it even more confusing and complicated in terms of the multiples and things where they can make mental errors.”
Considering the success Saban has had as a coach, he’s not likely to make a change in his process. Part of that process is what he calls “kind of a whole part whole guy. Throw it against the wall, see what sticks, pick it up and throw it again until they get it.
“ So it's a little frustrating right now that we are where we are, but we're making progress to get where we need to go. I'm excited about the approach the players have had so far this spring.”
It was no surprise that the quarterback play in last Saturday’s scrimmage was most consistent by the two players who have been in the system the longest, fourth-year junior Cooper Bateman and third-year sophomore David Cornwell. But Saban said that scrimmage would not affect how the quarterbacks are being worked.
“We haven't changed how we're doing the reps,” he said. “We're still giving everybody a chance.
“I think the guys that have the most knowledge and experience played the best. When I say that, I'm talking about Cooper Bateman -- who's been in the system the longest -- and David Cornwell. They played the best.
“The two younger guys (redshirt freshman Blake Barnett and true freshman early enrollee Jalen Hurts), even though they demonstrated that they have a tremendous amount of upside in terms of the way they played, their consistency in performance because of their confusion, lack of knowledge, poise under pressure, whichever you want to talk about -- which is not uncommon or surprising for young guys the first time they go out there, they probably weren't quite as consistent as the other guys.
“We're continuing to try to give everybody an opportunity. I think we'll probably do that for the rest of the spring.”
Saban also discussed sophomore Xavian Marks, a high school track star and running back, who seems headed for a position change.
"He's really made a lot of progress and improvement as a receiver,” Saban said. “I think he kind of played running back most of the time in high school so he was in a little bit of a transition last year as he tried to become a receiver but he is very quick, very fast, has very good hands. He's not a big guy but he can overcome all that and he has made a tremendous amount of improvement.
“He's also made a lot of improvement as a returner and I think the number one thing that if I had to say he has anything to prove is, if you're going to be in those positions as a punt returner or kickoff returner or even as a slot receiver, your ball security has to be something that everyone can depend on. And I would say that to anybody that was going to do that on our team. But he has made a tremendous amount of progress and I think will contribute to our team in those roles next season."