In the first scrimmage of the fall, the first offense dominated the second defense and the first defense was far superior to the second offense. Saturday's scrimmage saw the first offense doing well, but having some struggles against back-up defenders. And while the second offense had expected problems with the first defense, the second offense also had some success. The important point is that those on the second units may have made a couple of steps up, rather than the first groups having regressed.
Alabama Head Coach Mike Shula said, "Overall we did some good things, but we didn't show the consistency we need to have." Bama went through a 93-play scrimmage (not including kicking plays) before a crowd of several thousand at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday.
Bama will have a relatively light practice Sunday night, go through its final day of two-a-day practices Monday, have a final scrimmage (closed to the public) Tuesday, then begin classes (and one-a-day only practices) Wednesday. The Tide is working towards the 2004 season-opener at 6 p.m. CDT Saturday, September 4, against Utah State in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Shula said Bama is not yet where it needs to be from an intensity standpoint. "There needs to be more intensity when something negative happens," the coach said. "We need an urgency to get it done on the next play. That comes with maturity and mental toughness. We do things to get ready physically, but we also have to do the work mentally."
There were a couple of scary moments in Saturday's scrimmage. Linebacker DeMeco Ryans went out with a sprained ankle and defensive tackle Dominic Lee was down with a reinjury of the ankle he had surgery on last spring. Shula said that neither is expected to be out long. When Ryans went out, Freddie Roach–last year's starter at middle linebacker–moved into Ryans' strongside linebacker position.
Shula said, "We've got to get the football team ready, and the only way to do that is through live scrimmage work. You hope you don't get anyone hurt, but that's one of the things about this game."
A handful of those expected to be prominent in games this season were held out of the work. They included strong safety Charlie Peprah, who has missed much practice time with a pulled hamstring, but who is expected to return next week; tight end David Cavan, whose practice time will be limited in order to keep him healthy for games; and defensive end Todd Bates, given a break from contact as he rehabilitates a "stinger" in his shoulder.
Saturday's scrimmage was in great part about finding back-up performers. Coaches won't have a good idea of how much progress has been made until (at least) seeing the videotapes, but the early feeling had to be that some back-ups had taken a step forward. Prior to the start of fall practices, the area of greatest concern was wide receiver, where the top five men from last season had graduated. Add to that that Antonio Carter, the sixth-year senior recovering from a leg injury, is not likely to be ready in the early going, and the situation could have been dire.
But Saturday's scrimmage showed that wide receiver is a position of emerging skill and depth. The likely starters will be redshirt freshman Matt Caddell at split end and sophomore Tyrone Prothro at flanker. They are the "old hands" of the receiver corps. But true freshmen D.J. Hall and Keith Brown, particularly, have showed exceptional ability. "J.D. and K.D. showed out again today," Shula said. "All the wide receivers have come to play. Zeke Knight is showing big play ability, too."
The scrimmage was heavy on passing and Hall had five catches for 70 yards with two touchdowns; Brown only one catch, but a 51-yard touchdown; Prothro four receptions for 51 yards and a touchdown; and Caddell three grabs for 33 yards and a touchdown.
Shula said all the running backs have talent. "We're looking for consistency," he said. "We want them to follow the blocking schemes and protect the football."
Ray Hudson had three carries for 42 yards and also had a 24-yard pass reception. Kenneth Darby had six runs for 42 yards with a touchdown and caught two passes for 45 yards. Tim Castille, playing both fullback and halfback, had eight carries for 25 yards. Freshman Aaron Johns had six runs for 28 yards.
Brodie Croyle had a solid day at quarterback, completing 12 of 25 passes for 220 yards and four touchdowns.
With Croyle solidly number one at quarterback, the attention has shifted to the battle for back-up. Marc Guillon had the better of it statistically Saturday. Opening up with the second offense against the first defense, Guillon was intercepted on the first play of the scrimmage by cornerback Anthony Madison. Shula said, "One thing about Marc is that he has the ability to forget a bad play and get to work on the next play, which you have to have at every position, but particularly the quarterback position." Guillon finished with six-of-12 passing for 95 yards and a touchdown. Spencer Pennington, who was Croyle's back-up last year, was good on four-of-10 for 36 yards.
Shula said that Croyle has been getting about half the repetitions in practice with Guillon and Pennington splitting the remainder. The Tide coach indicated that the backi-up men might get more work in Tuesday's scrimmage in an attempt to sort out the depth chart at the quarterback position. "We feel good about both of them," Shula said.
He said his feeling watching the practice was that there were fewer mental errors. "I'm not concerned with statistics from a scrimmage as much I'm concerned with guys making good decisions."
Bama spent some time on various situations, including goalline work, field goal kicking, punting, kickoffs, and two-minute drill. Shula said he was not satisfied with Alabama's work in the two-minute drill. "We're not where we need to do and it involves our young receivers and our pass protection."
Guillon shook off the first play interception and came back moments later with a short pass to Brown that the fleet freshman turned into a 51-yard touchdown against the first defense.
The next four touchdowns were all Croyle passes. He hit Darby for a 38-yard gain to set up a 22-yard touchdown pass to Caddell. Prothro made a fine one-handed catch and then ran in an 18-yard touchdown. Hall got the next two touchdown receptions, a 35-yarder that followed a 25-yard pass to tight end Clint Johnston and a 14-yarder on a fade route in which Hlal made an excellent catch.
Brian Bostick kicked all the extra points and was perfect. Bostick was wide left on a 48-yard field goal attempt, but nailed a 27-yard effort. Jamie Christensen hit a 33-yard field goal, while Mike McLaughlin was good from 30 yards.