Stuart McNair

Alabama Coach Nick Saban generally optimistic after scrimmage

Calvin Ridley had ‘eight catches or something’ in Alabama’s first scrimmage

Do you want optimism or do you want information? Alabama Coach Nick Saban said that the Crimson Tide’s first scrimmage of spring practice Saturday is a “starting point” and that there is a “long way to go,” but he also he said that there were good things on defense and offense. In recent years the statistics for quarterbacks have been omitted from post-scrimmage reports. The withholding of statistics hit a new low following this year’s initial scrimmage.

Alabama will have one more scrimmage next Friday before the A-Day Game on April 22 concludes spring practice.

For those who want statistics, here is what we were given to share:

Regarding quarterback Jalen Hurts, Saban said, "He did a good job. He completed over 50 percent of his passes. I think he had four touchdown passes. I thought he did a really good job. I don't think he threw any interceptions today, so that was good. He has a good understanding of what we're doing and did a much better job in the pocket and did a really good job with play action passes."

As for who was catching those passes, here is the rest of the statistics story:

"Robert (Foster) did a much better job today. He was very engaged out there today. Made some catches. Calvin Ridley had a big day. I think he had like eight catches or something. Robert had three catches. T.J. Simmons had seven catches. The backs had quite a few catches. I was pleased with the receivers. I think that's one of the areas of concern where we need to make considerable improvement when I talk about consistency in performance. But most certainly, Calvin Ridley had a big day and Robert Foster was good."

There was some optimism sprinkled with that statistical report.

"I thought there were a lot of good things out there today for the first scrimmage,” Saban said. “The number one goal for any team, any new team as you rebuild a team is for that team to take advantage of trying to create an identity for themselves and have a clear vision of who we want to be and how we want to play. We always talk about being a team that nobody wants to play. I think that comes from guys playing with relentless competitive spirit, trusting in the process of how we do things and what we do so you can play together as a team and be fast and physical in what you do and take care of the ball and finish plays. The guys that run with the ball usually end up having a better chance to make plays than guys that don't, whether it's on offense or defense.”

There was a hint that there are going to be changes in the offense as the Crimson Tide has a new coordinator in Brian Daboll. Saban said, "I thought the transition on offense was pretty smooth on offense with the things we were doing, the carryover of things we've done from the past as well as the new things that we did,” Saban said. “I thought we were much more effective passing the football today. A lot of big plays, a lot of explosive plays throwing the ball, especially play action passes. I think all the quarterbacks did a fairly good job and they all got a good opportunity.

Defensively, I thought there was a lot of good hitting, a lot of good tackling. I think a lot of the young players made a lot of mental errors, but that's okay. I think that's why we put them out there. They'll learn from the mistakes that they made and we're going to have an opportunity to get some of those guys better.

But all in all, I was really pleased with for the first scrimmage, the way things went. We have a lot of things to work on and a long way to go, but I like the attitude of the players in terms of how they went about what they were doing. There are a lot of things we need to do. I would say if there's one thing we need to improve on, it's just consistency in performance. A lot of good things, but a lot of things that we need to eliminate and get better at.

Saban was a bit negative regarding secondary play by back-up defensive backs. He said, “It's pretty obvious to me that we don't have enough respect for the deep part of the field in the back end, especially past the first team because we gave up quite a few explosive plays with the second and third secondary when they were in there.”

Asked what went wrong, Saban said, “We have a lot of young players in the secondary that are freshmen playing and they don't know what they're doing. That's what went wrong. It didn't go wrong, they just don't know any better.

“We're encouraged by what these guys are doing and we just need to keep working with them and it's their first time out there, a lot of anxiety, not certain about what they're doing and not playing with a lot of confidence. That's really to be expected. It gives us all a starting point of where they need to go and what they need to do and I'm sure they'll learn a lot from it. We're excited about having the opportunity to work with them."

Regarding the secondary, Saban said that Minkah Fitzpatrick – who had been working at cornerback for about a half dozen practices this spring – was at safety in the scrimmage with Trevon Diggs working at left cornerback.

He "We're pleased with the progress that Diggs has made. He's much more natural playing at corner than when we tried to play him at safety. That's where he played in high school. Long, he has good toughness. He's a good tackler. Plays the ball well in the deep part of the field and did a good job of playing man-to-man. I don't know what we're going to do with him the rest of the spring. We'll probably decide something after the end of the next scrimmage."

As expected, neither Bo Scarbrough nor B.J. Emmons participated in the scrimmage. The tailbacks are recovering from 2016 injuries and resulting surgery. Danien Harris, last year’s leading rusher, “sprained his foot, but did a good job in the scrimmage,” Saban said. “I don’t know what the prognosis on that will be. I don't think it's anything real serious but it may keep him out for a few days. Najee played a lot and Brian Robinson played a lott, which is good for them. We're trying Chadarius Townsend at receiver. Josh Jacobs had a little thigh bruise, we held him out but probably could have scrimmaged today. All those guys are guys that can make a contribution to our team and we're looking for ways that we can use them."

He said the running game is “something we definitely need to continue to work on. I don't think we got enough movement up front. Look, we're playing against ourselves. So if we really ran the ball good, we would be saying 'Look over at the defense.' If we gave up too many big plays, we'd be saying 'What's wrong with the defense?' We didn't give up too many big plays. It was mostly some of the younger players that did it. I think we have to do a better job up front of getting movement on people, finishing plays and finishing runs."

Asked about the defensive front seven (linemen and linebackers), the Tide coach said, “I think we stopped the run okay. I think the big thing we have to work on is pass rush, pass rush lanes, quarterback scrambling, quarterback running. Everybody is worried about getting the sack. They need to worry about forcing the quarterback, pushing the pocket in the middle so he can't step up and throw the ball, can't extend plays which means that coverage breaks down in the back and we make big plays. I would say that against the run we were okay, but past that I don't have a great feel for it without watching the film."

Saban was asked about the right side of the offensive line.

"Lester Cotton is playing right guard. He probably could play right tackle if we needed him to. Matt Womack is playing right tackle and he's making progress and doing a good job.

“Do we need to make improvements at the offensive line? I think probably at all positions, there's no position on our team where we don't need improvement. But those guys have been a pretty solid group so far, but again, if I was going to be specific, I think pass protection is something that we really need to improve on, being more physical in the running game  and getting more movement up front are the things that I would say not just today but all spring long that we really want to emphasize with those players."

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