Alabama's football team went to Bryant-Denny Stadium for a Saturday afternoon scrimmage that precedes by a week the end of spring training when the A-Day Game is played. On-again, off-again rain was heavy when the practice started and got heavy again just before completion two hours later.
Bama will have its 13th and 14th practices of the spring next Tuesday and Thursday, then have it's a-Day Game next Saturday. Kickoff will be at 1 p.m. in Bryant-Denny Stadium. There is no charge for admission, although donations will be accepted for the victims of a tornado that struck with deadly force in Enterprise earlier this year.
Alabama Coach Nick Saban said, "We made improvements in a lot of areas I think. It was a little difficult for the offense in the passing game. We had a lot of drops. The weather was tough. We thought it was going to quit raining. That's what we were told by our crack meteorologist over in the football office. Actually, it did turn out to be okay and we got a lot out of it."
Saban said that most of the day was spent in situational scrimmage.
A week earlier the team had worked on third down situations. This week they ran a play from a second-and-10 situation, then had the third down situation based on that second down play.
There was also work in the Red Zone and goalline situations.
Saban talked at length about the late game situations, the offense trying to run out the clock, the defense trying to use its timeouts and get the offense stopped in order to get the ball back. And there was also two-minute drill.
Saban said there were a lot og "end of game situations. Our players need to learn to be smart in those situations so we can take advantage of it.
"We had a team trying to take the air out of the ball and then the other team would go two minutes if they didn't get it done. In one case we got them stopped defensively, the offense couldn't take the air out, had to punt the ball back to them to go two-minute at the end of the game. But the two-minute wasn't good enough to score.
"In the other case, the defense couldn't get them stopped, so the offense did take the air out of it and the game was over. There were a lot of circumstances like that."
All-in-all, he said, "There were a lot of good learning opportunities, things to build on. We were pleased about that.
"I saw a lot of improvement out there."
But Saban indicated the offense had not built on what it had done a day earlier.
He said, "Yesterday (Friday) we probably threw the ball and did as well offensively from an execution standpoint. I really felt excited about the progress we were making and where we were and what we were doing.
"Today was a tough circumstance to build on that. We're not disappointed in what we did. We had a lot of opportunities out there to make plays that we weren't able to finish. That's one of the things we've been harping on our players about. Finish plays, finish games, finish the period. Be able to focus on the next play regardless of what the circumstances are. That's something we have not done as well as we need to."
An adage has it that a team can't look good on both offense and defense when it is scrimmaging against itself. It seemed the defense had the better of it Saturday.
"I think we made some plays on defense today," Saban said. "Defensively I think we took advantage of the situation a little bit, some of the turnovers we got and some of the plays that we made.
"We had some guys who made some plays today. Simeon Castille had an interception he ran back for a touchdown. We had some turnovers and things on defense."
Saban also mentioned special teams positively.
The coach said, "There was some improvement in the kicking game. Our specials were a little better today. We had a little better hang time (punting). We missed a couple of long field goals, 58 and 49. we were giving guys an opportunity to see what they can do. The 58 was long enough, just a little off to the left."
He said conditions may have been the reason "We probably didn't throw it as much as we'd like to.
"We've got to keep working but I'm encouraged about where we are offensively, how we've done and how we've progressed." guys have to overcome and make it an advantage for themselves.
He said that defensive end Keith Saunders were held out of the scrimmage. "He got hit in the head. I don't think it's a serious thing."
Also held out was B.J. Stabler, who has been playing right tackle. Saban said his knee had bothered him the past couple of days and so he had been held out those days.
Wide receiver Keith Brown started the scrimmage but bruised a leg and missed part of Saturday's work.
Otherwise, Saban said, "I don't think anybody else came out or had an issue."
In answer to a question, Saban said the offensive line is "doing a nice job." With Stabler out, Saban said Michael Johnson worked at right tackle and he's done a nice job. He had a couple of penalties, probably anxiety from being out there."
Saban said, "Smitty and Caldwell (left tackle Andre Smith and center Antoine Caldwell) have both had outstanding springs and do a really good job. Hopefully they'll continue to improve. Caldwell provides a lot of leadership too. He does a good job at the center position."
Alabama's receivers frequently mention the emphasis put on them in their roles as blockers. In answer to a question, Saban said, "It doesn't have anything to do with the offense we run. We throw the ball a lot. There are a lot of multiples on offense. We had quite a bit of empty (no backs behind the quarterback) today.
"What it means is that when we run it, the receivers have to block. It's part of their job. And if you're really good and make good plays running the ball, the receivers have to block because it's usually their guys who are the last line of defense. I think our receivers have done a good job of blocking this spring.
"I think it's good coaching to emphasize toughness at every position and giving effort and finishing and knowing what your role is regardless of the play. It's important for them to receive the ball – that's why they are called receivers – but it's also important for them to do their roles in other areas. We will run the ball at some point. Even if we pass 92 per cent, we'll run it 8 per cent of the time, and they need to be blocking that 8 per cent."