Alabama Coach Nick Saban gave a preview of Saturday’s A-Day Game following the Crimson Tide’s next-to-last practice of spring training Thursday, and there were no surprises.
Alabama’s A-Day game, the 15th and final practice of the spring, will be at 2 p.m. CDT Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium. There is no charge for admission and ESPN will televise the game.
Saban said the game will be formatted “to create the best competition we can.” As have his previous 10 spring games at Alabama, it will be first team offense vs. first team defense and second team offense vs. second team defense. The first offense and second defense will be in Crimson, the second offense and first defense in White.
“It’s the most competitive way,” Saban said.
Also as expected, four Alabama players – three of them tailbacks – will be held out of the game. They are running backs Bo Scarbrough, Damien Harris, and B.J. Emmons, and linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton.
He said that Scarbrough has “done everything in practice,” and indicated he could play in the game, but that the goal of spring practice for him was to come out 100 per cent healthy. He’s recovering from a broken leg suffered in the national championship game. Harris has had a recurring sprained foot problem this spring, Emmons is recovering from surgery after a broken foot last season, and Hamilton suffered a torn ACL in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game win over Florida.
Don’t expect the playbook to be opened up. He said both the offensive and defensive units would be limited.
“My theory on it is we want to stay basic to try to get better execution with the players, especially some of the other guys, the back-up players that don't have the knowledge or experience,” Saban said. “But the second part of that is it would be very foolish to do things that are new to our offense that we would show our opponents that we play early in the season by doing them in the spring game. if the goal of spring practice is to play better in the season why would we do anything that would enhance our opponent's ability to prepare for us?”
Even though Alabama returns the SEC Offensive Player of the Year in sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts, that position is still one of interest. Hurts is backed by two true freshmen, Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones.
Saban said, “I've been really pleased with the progress that all three of our quarterbacks have made. I feel really good about these guys. It'll be interesting to see how they do when get out their on their own (Saturday); to see how they lead, how they compete, how they keep their composure, how they respond to adversity if there's any created in the game.
“I think that the thing I've tried to emphasize with the quarterbacks is we've got to focus on execution and not try to make plays all the time, because that's when you get in trouble. Just execute the play like it's supposed to be executed and believe and trust in that, and that's going to help us make plays rather than trying to create plays or force plays. You've got to focus on the process of what you have to do to make it a positive play.
“Our consistency in doing that has been better and better all spring.”
He said the number one goal for Hurts this spring was “to help him become a better passer. We have spent a tremendous amount of practice time on it this spring. I think he’s made progress. It’s just the way we practice, it’s the system that we have, it’s how he’s coached in the system so he has a better understanding, is trying to do things in the passing game that he’s capable of executing. And I think he’s made really, really good progress.”
As for Hurts’s freshman season, Saban said, “The most difficult thing for a young quarterback to do is probably be a drop-back passer. So we try and create ways, and I’m being very positive, and I was in agreement with what we did, to try to create ways that we could throw the ball, make explosive plays in the passing game without doing a whole lot of drop backs. Because he was a freshman, we didn’t want to ask him to do a lot of things that he wasn’t comfortable doing.
“Is that a bad thing? We won 14 games that way.”
Alabama goes into its final practice with Saban upbeat. He said, “I was a little more encouraged today about the energy and enthusiasm that we had in practice.”
The Tide coach is also hoping for another big crowd for the game. He said that it helped the program because the players on the field who view the big crowds as creating “a little big of a mind-set of what I’m doing is really something special.” And there will be a large number of top prospects on hand and he said “It’s a real positive for the recruits to see that kind of support, energy, and enthusiasm.”
In addition to the prospects, a large number of former Alabama players are returning for the spring game.
And, Saban reminded, “It's a steak and beans game. We had a draft yesterday and we drafted some of the other players on the team as well as all the coaches, staff, as to which team they were on.
“The steak gets tablecloths, flowers, waiter, everything they want. And the other guys get paper plates and one big pot of beans, and that's it.
“Being the commissioner, I usually can manipulate my way to whichever side of the room I like. Even though pork and beans are a favorite, these have never been my favorite."