The second and final scrimmage for Alabama football may or may not have answered specific questions, but may have given a hint at quarterback. It took a while to get started – a rainstorm that moved through Tuscaloosa just about the time the scrimmage was to begin delayed matters about 45 minutes and resulted in a humid outing of some 150 plays.
One theme of Alabama football speculation has been whether Alabama Coach Nick Saban would have any compunction against starting a freshman at quarterback, the speculation fueled by rumor that true freshman Jalen Hurts has been the most impressiveof the candidates.
Saban was asked a question couched in terms of the coach’s history of playing freshmen, and whether quarterback might be an exception to that practice.
Saban said, “To me, I don’t look at a guy as to whether he’s a freshman, or a sophomore or a junior, I look at them with what kind of maturity does he play with. Not what his chronological age is or class is, but how fast does he grasp what he needs to do to play at his position. What kind of maturity does he go out there and compete with? What kind of decision-making and judgment.”
Saban had more to say about the quarterback competition.
He said, “There are encouraging things. I think the big word there that I'd like to use with these guys is consistency. One day or two days in a row, it will look like one guy is starting to sort of forge ahead a little bit. Then two days later somebody else seems to have a good day or two and it makes you think maybe this is the guy who's the guy starting to take the bull by the horns and is going to be the guy.
“So I think it's consistency. I think it's the guy that can go out there and do it day in and day out and have the confidence to do it, not to press, take what the defense gives, don't try to make plays.
“I think what the quarterback has to understand, and you've heard me say this before, is you can't make the plays that lose the game. You know, we've played here with quarterbacks on good teams that didn't necessarily do anything to win the game, they just didn't do anything to lose it. And I think it starts with that. Those are the kind of plays that we have to eliminate. Understanding the situation, whether it's two-minute, and you take off running and the clock runs out rather than throwing it to the read that you have, those kind of things are what the players have to understand and be able to do with more consistency.
“I think everybody is capable. I don't have any question about the capabilities. We talk about this on a daily basis, but each time we talk about it, somebody seems to come to the forefront, and then all of a sudden somebody else sort of pushes ahead. So the person that can play with the most consistency is the guy that's going to have the best opportunity to lead us in the first game.
“I can't really say that one guy sticks out right now. I think they have different skill sets, so doing what they can do will probably help each and every one of them. We'll probably have to get into that some this week."
In a general sense, Saban said, “We’ll probably have more freshmen play this year maybe than we’ve had for a while around here. We feel good about some of them. They got a long way to go, but we lost a lot of good players. Some of those guys are certainly adding depth at a lot of positions for us, and we need them to be able to have roles.
“One of the good things about last year’s team is we had a lot of guys who could play. We played 16 or 17 guys as starters on defense. We rotated a lot of guys in there who were freshman on third down.
“We need some guys that can do that so, for instance, Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams don’t have to play every down, so somebody else can play so they can be better on third down.
“This is true at a lot of positions, and it’s true on positions on offense, whether its receiver or running back.
“I do not have a problem with a guy’s chronological age. In fact, we played two freshmen in the secondary, true freshmen, last year. You can get beat back there with freshmen playing, but those guys knew what to do. They learned how do it, they were confident and they played pretty well for us.
“Now, if a guy plays quarterback and he’s a young player, I think that it will require us having patience in his development and not asking him to do things that he’s not ready to do.”
Saban said that junior Cooper Bateman, redshirt freshman Blake Barnett, and Hurts are all still even in the quarterback battle. Although no statistics were released from the scrimmage for quarterbacks or any other position, there were reports that sophomore David Cornwell, who has been limited by a foot injury suffered in the summer, did not participate.
Saban seemed generally pleased with the scrimmage, but tempered that with the warning that problems need to be fixed.
He said, "I think that the focus was to improve from last week to this week. I think there were a lot of players that made a significant amount of improvement. We're obviously not where we want to be. I'm not disappointed with where we are.
“We have to eliminate the plays that get you beat. We had way too many undisciplined-type penalties, whether it's the defense offsides, illegal formation on offense, false start, those things are the kind of undisciplined things that stop drives, give them another opportunity on third down.
“I think we talked about playing with more discipline as a team, too many penalties, illegal formations, false starts. That’s one thing that I think is very correctable, and we need to get it corrected. I think the biggest thing is for us to find more players who can contribute on a consistent basis. I think we can play a little better on the offensive line, be a little more physical, finish plays a little bit better. We are still looking for consistency at the running back position. I didn’t think, in the beginning of the scrimmage today, we tackled very well on defense, which is uncharacteristic for us. I think we got off to a little bit of a slow start after we sat around for a half hour to go out there and play. We can’t give up big plays on defense, we have to be a good tackling team, we have to get turnovers. All those things are things that I think we need to improve on.
“We had a lot of dropped balls today, which is a little bit unusual for us. We need to be able to throw and catch it with more consistency.
“We did make some explosive plays but we kind of need to clean up and execute things with a little more discipline and focus. I thought the effort was better today.
“ thought the ones (first team offense and defense) basically played pretty well in the scrimmage.”
He said he is looking for more players on defense to play with consistency in order to adddepth.
“We have a lot of young players,” he said. “I think it's going to be a work in progress to get the knowledge and experience and understanding that they need to have to go out there and play with the kind of intangibles where they know what they're doing.
“We've got plenty to work on. We're not disappointed with where we are. We're excited about the things we're going to technically look at from this scrimmage and work to improve on this week before we start getting ready for our first game against USC, which will be a very challenging opponent.
“If you don't fix your problems, they stay with you. Most of the time, you fix your problems from the inside out. So it's not really external factors or where you're ranked or any of that. It's how bad you want to do it right, how bad you want to get it right, how bad you want to be a great competitor, and how bad you want to dominate the competition. I think that's the challenge for our team right now."
With three defensive backs having transferred out of the program over the past few months, Saban was asked about young players being able to contribute.
“They have too,” Saban said. “With the losses of the guys that we’ve had that would have been contributors, maybe starters in some cases. I’ve been really encouraged by Hootie Jones and Deionte Thompson. We have played (true freshman) Trevon Diggs on both sides of the ball, and he’s done very well, so that’s been very helpful. Anthony Averett has had a good, good camp, so we feel like we have three good corners. We have to have one of these young guys sort of come along and step up and continue to improve. They have made a lot of progress, but that’s where the depth’s got to come from at that position.”
Most players were able to participate in the scrimmage. Defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson and linebacker Keith Holcombe were held out with ankle injuries and receiver Cam Sims rested a sore knee. Saban said there were no serious injuries in Saturday’s scrimmage.
The Tide will be off on Sunday and have a light “stretch and stride” workout after watching video of Saturday’s scrimmage.
Alabama opens the season in two weeks, meeting Southern Cal on Sept. 3 in Arlington, Texas.