Interesting Scrimmage

An athletics adage has it that "you play like you practice." Alabama Head Coach Mike Shula seemed to be aware of that as he reviewed the Crimson Tide's first major scrimmage of the spring. Bama went through a two-hour scrimmage at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday with a fairly large crowd of on-lookers on hand.

A scrimmage isn't a game and a stadium perhaps one-twentieth filled doesn't make for game conditions. But it is different than a normal practice. Alabama's 10th of 15 spring practice dates had a number of interesting aspects.

One area cited by Coach Mike Shula: "We need to find an identity," he said. "We've had good leadership, but we want to have it in front of people. I thought that was lacking today. We need to have more leadership."

The workout involved the two quarterback contenders, John Parker Wilson and Marc Guillon, both working with the first offense against the first and second defenses and both of them working with the second offense, also against the first and second defensive units.

(Because of injuries or the depth situation at various positions, first, second, and third teamers were frequently mixed on both offense and defense.)

The defense came in for a bit more praise than the offense. For instance, Shula said the two quarterbacks were "just average…nothing to write home about." And he didn't even mention the third quarterback, Jimmy Barnes, who seemed to have a pretty good day working with a third offense of mostly walk-ons against a decent third defense.

Shula also blended his post-practice comments, mentioning some men for their overall spring performance as well as the scrimmage. As for the quarterbacks through the spring, he said, "I've seen some good things. We need to see improvement in consistency. The first thing is that you don't want a quarterback throwing interceptions. And you don't want him throwing dangerous passes. One reason we didn't have many interceptions last year is we made good decisions. We didn't have a lot of those passes where you say we were lucky it wasn't intercepted. Our quarterbacks need as much work like today as they can get. Because of the rules [which limit a team to three major scrimmage days in spring practice] we can't do this every day, but we need to give them as much as we can."

Shula reiterated, "We're not in any hurry right now (to identify the first team quarterback). We don't open until September." He said the staff would continue to get "information from the players" by the way they practice and that the staff would evaluate that information to make a decision.

Several other players were cited for having done well in the scrimmage and throughout the week, and even throughout spring practice. Among them were halfback Roy Upchurch, middle linebacker Prince Hall, and safety Jeffrey Dukes.

Overall, Shula said, "I think we got some good work, got some things done. I saw some young guys mixing in with older guys. The defense was good. I'd say the offense MVP was (placekicker) Jamie Christensen. He's kicking the ball as well as he ever has."

The coach said that redshirt freshman Upchurch had the best day of the running backs. "Like Prince Hall, he had a good week of practice and then a good day today." He said Upchurch "is a big back, a power-type runner with good speed. And his lateral movement has improved tremendously." Upchurch, of course, was unable to practice in the fall after undergoing ankle surgery.

Alabama lost both starting safeties in Roman Harper and Charlie Peprah, but the Tide head coach feels good about the position two-thirds of the way through spring practice. Shula said, "Jeffrey Dukes had another good practice today. Marcus Carter has made good strides. Rashad Johnson, particularly the last week, has seen the light come on. He's making a lot of tackles. He has a lot of ability. With those three and when we get Cory Reamer (out this spring with a knee injury) back, we're going to be okay at that position."

One notable returnee to the practice field was halfback Kenneth Darby, who has been held out of most work this spring because of tendonitis in his knee. Shula said that Darby looked good.

Among other observations by Shula was that Keith Brown did a nice job on a long pass, that Matt Collins continues to do well at middle linebacker and Terrence Jones is doing well at strongside linebacker, and that cornerback Simeon Castille has had a good spring. He also said that Bama's running backs "have to be able to pick up the blitz."

Although he's not practicing yet, Shula said there is a possibility that Justin Britt could get some practice time before the end of spring. He said the staff will have a decision to make on where to play Britt. A co-starter at defensive tackle last season, Britt is going to get a look in the offensive line. "We think he can help us in the offensive line," Shula said, adding that, "It's not because the defensive coaches don't want him back, because they do."

On the injury front, Shula said that running back Ali Sharrief pulled a hamstring in the scrimmage. He also noted that fullback Baron Huber, who was absent, had suffered a knee injury on Friday and was undergoing an MRI examination Saturday.

Alabama will continue work next week, a Tuesday workout in pads and then another scrimmage at Bryant-Denny Stadium Thursday. Following that is The University's spring break. The Tide will have three practices remaining in the final week, concluding with the annual A-Day Game at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, April 1, at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

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