The Alabama football team is nearing the end of spring practice. The Crimson Tide had its second closed scrimmage at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday and will have two practices next week (Tuesday and Thursday) before finishing up with the A-Day Game on April 16.
Alabama Coach Nick Saban saw good things, particularly from the first offense and first defense, but guess what else he saw?
“Obviously they can do better things,” he said. “We’ve got plenty to improve on.”
“But,” he said, “there was better continuity, there was a lot of improvement, there were plays made by both [offense and defense].”
He noted that wide receiver Robert Foster, who has been on a slightly restricted regimen in spring practice as he recovers from shoulder surgery, “made some big plays, which was good to see. I think that helps his confidence in coming off an injury. ArDarius Stewart had another good day.”
The scrimmage stats released to reporters showed Foster leading the way in receiving with four catches for 106 yards and two touchdowns. Calvin Ridley had three receptions for 62 yards, Stewart five for 60, and Cam Sims 2-47.
Saban said he hopes there is good competition at wide receiver. “I think we have three guys that are ahead of the rest,” he said, meaning Ridley, Stewart, and Foster. Then he added, “I think Cam Sims really had a good spring. He’s healthy. Last year, he struggled a lot coming off the knee and then he had a hamstring. He never really was full speed, but he’s done a really, really good job.
“Derek Kief has made a lot of plays and done a nice job: very crafty.
“The first three guys are probably a little ahead of those guys. Robert has struggled at times this spring and not 100 percent healthy, but I think he’s gotten better and better and I think I’m just really happy to see he made some plays today because that probably did a lot for his confidence.”
Saban said that Bo Scarbrough “made some big runs.” Scarbrough had his second scrimmage with more than 100 yards rushing, picking up 112 yards on 12 carries and scoring a touchdown. Damien Harris had eight rushes for 56 yards and Ronnie Clark seven runs for 31 yards.
Asked about Harris, Saban said, “Damien did a good job today. He had eight carries for 56 yards, which is really really good. We wanted him and Bo to sort of get eight to 10 carries. That was kind of the plan for today. Bo actually got 12, and he got eight. He’s done a nice job, showing some maturity. He’s able to compete in practices better. He’s got a better understanding and more confidence in what’s expected of him. I’ve been really encouraged by him and the spring’s he’s had, including today.”
Saban pointed out that this year is different than others in that Bama lost both its first and second tailbacks in Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake from the 2015 team. In the past, the Tide lost Mark Ingram, but returned Trent Richardson. Then lost Richardson, but had Eddie Lacy back; lost Lacy, but returned T.J. Yeldon; lost Yeldon, replaced him with Henry.
“There’s going to be an opportunity for some young players,” Saban said. “Certainly the guys we have here got lots of opportunities here today and they definitely need to get better. But we’ve had freshmen running backs do well for us in the past, so it’s not a position they can’t play and contribute.”
Saban said, “There was a lot better consistency, there was a lot better performance on both sides. I think the first defense has three touchdowns – two interceptions and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. So there were a lot of plays that were made.”
The defensive statistics had linebackers leading the way -- Reuben Foster 9 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 forced fumble; Ryan anderson 7 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack; Rashaan Evans 7 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack; Christian Miller 6 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble.
Additionally, cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick had five tackles and returned an interception for a touchdown.
Saban said JK Scott “punted really well today, even though there was a crosswind. He changed field position a couple of times really effectively.
“So all those things, I think, are real positives for us, things that we wanted to improve on and I’m really, really pleased with.”
Saban said the upcoming week, “We’re all doing a little quality control on ourselves, to see what we need to work on in these next two practices and how we can help some of our players get better.”
He said that defensive end Da’Shawn Hand, who missed practices this week with back spasms, is not expected to need surgery, but that a prediction can’t be made on when he’ll return or if he’ll be available for the A-Day Game. The defensive line is already thin with returning starting end Jonathan Allen sitting out much of the work after undergoing shoulder surgery following last season.
Saban was asked about the kick returners since Bama lost top men Kenyan Drake and Cyrus Jones from last year’s team. He said, “Calvin Ridley and Xavian Marks are the two guys that have probably done it the best. We have two or three other guys that are doing it. But those guys have done a pretty good job and did a good job today. We didn’t have mishandled balls or have any turnovers on special teams. That was a positive.”