Alabama will return to the practice field for the second of 15 spring training dates on Tuesday. The Crimson Tide will complete spring practice with the A-Day Game at 1 p.m. Saturday, April 21, in Bryant-Denny Stadium. That scrimmage is the only practice that will be open to the public.
The Tide was out with defense all in crimson jerseys, the offense in white, and quarterbacks and players unable to participate fully in black. It was a very warm day with temperatures unseasonably reaching into the 80s.
Nick Saban has been Alabama's head coach for something over two months, but he was in what he said was his favorite part of the job Saturday. He said, "The part of coaching I like the best is the teaching, working with players. Our knowledge base being new, we've got a long way to go, a lot we need to teach."
No one expects a football team to be anywhere close to ready on the first day of spring practice, particularly with a new system going in. But the players drew praise from their new head coach.
Saban said, "The first day is like all first days. The players have a lot of anxiety, don't really know what to expect, have a lot of new drills, a lot of new teaching...but all-in-all, I was pleased with the way the players tried to respond to the tempo we're practicing with, the teaching they are receiving from play-to-play. We weren't able to sustain that intensity throughout. It was a warm day, first day with helmets on. I don't care what you do in the off-season, the first day is a little different.
"It was a good start for us. I was pleased with it . We need to improve our ability to sustain our intensity over time so we can continue to play fast, execute well, not make mental errors, not lose mental toughness and physical toughness so that we can finish things the way we want to. We've made improvement. We need to continue to work to improve in that area.
"But all-in-all, I was pleased with the effort, I was pleased with the attitude, I was pleased with -- based on the volume of information these players had to digest -- with everything being relatively new from a terminology standpoint -- I was really pleased with what we were able to accomplish, what we were able to do.
"I was pleased with their approach, their intensity. We have some guys developing some understanding which is important for them to be able to play fast and be able to execute things the way they'd like to."
Saban said he was not aware of any injuries during the day.
Even before sportswriters could ask about individuals who might have caught the head coach's eye, Saban said, "We had a few guys make some plays out there. D.J. Hall was probably a little bit of a standout at receiver. He made a couple of big plays, made some nice catches, played fast, sustained well. (Quarterback) John Parker Wilson for the first day looked pretty good in what he was doing. There were a lot of players out there that did a nice job in what they were doing, but I noticed those two guys offensively. They looked like they were a little ahead of the curve."
Saban didn't name any defensive players, but that doesn't mean he didn't like what he saw of the defense.
"I thought the first group did a better job of executing, not making as many mental errors," he said. "We've still got a long way to go, but I wasn't disappointed at all in the way they went out there today and executed. We've got a lot of young players who really need to develop more confidence and consistency and performance for us to get enough players on defense for us to have enough depth to get through the kind of schedule we've got to play."
Saban didn't do anything special for his first day as Alabama's head coach. He said the practice essentially was the same he has had with every team he has ever coached, from Toledo to Michigan State to LSU to the Miami Dolphins, although it is adjusted as needed.
The coach said Bama had a "lot of two-spot drills drills, trying to minimize the number of players standing around so everybody is getting some reps. We try to rotate guys through and try to get as much teaching done as we can. I don't like to practice more than two hours, not counting walk-through and flexibility. We try to practice an hour and fifty minutes or two hours and get a lot of teaching done."
He reiterated his whole-part-whole teaching plan, whereby players are given a lot to learn each day. "As much as they can consume on a daily basis," Saban said. "If you go over the barrier, things kind of run together and you have so many mental errors you're not really making progress. Over the years we've developed a system. Here's how much we think they can learn, here's how much they can learn the next day."
He said it has been developed through trial and error and that it continues to change as needed.
There was a little team work, 35 plays "of some kind of team work" for each group in the Saturday practice.
Saban said, "It's hard to go team when you just have the little spider pads on -- the little rubber things that go under shoulder pads. Those things are great for safety. But at this stage, the more you go, the more you learn, the more situational stuff you get into, you build into more and more team. I think the most difficult thing to do when you just have spider pads or shoulder pads and shorts is to start banging around in 11 on 11 stuff. We'll do more and more of that as we go."