Reporters are not allowed to watch Alabama football practices, but the Tide's head coach was ready with the answer to the first question before it was asked. Following the workout at Bryant-Denny Stadium, Nick Saban said, "When we have a scrimmage we want to find out where we are, who is doing well or needs to improve, and what we need to do to get better."
The coach admonished the reporters to remember that regardless of how the scrimmage went – and he said some things went well – that the team "is not where we want to be or where we need to be."
He said following the workout he asked the players who had done as well as they could do, and none of them spoke up, even though some had done well.
The Crimson Tide worked through its first scrimmage of the preseason camp Saturday afternoon at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The two-hour practice featured game situations involving changing field position, including a long team portion followed by third-down situations, red-zone opportunities, goal-line situations and work in the two-minute offense.
Saban was pleased with the effort given by the team, citing some big plays by the offensive unit while noting some concern about the tackling of the defense and the team's overall consistency in approach and performance. Saban emphasized that the team is making progress, but still has improvement to make in all areas.
"Some guys did a really good job," Saban said after the scrimmage. "They played well, made some plays, but those guys can still improve. Some guys did not play as well as they would have liked to play, but we're not going to get frustrated by that, but we are going take what we need to do to teach them so they can improve and become better players.
"For the most part, the tackling on defense was not what it needs to be and because of the tackles and mental mistakes, we gave up too many big plays. Now, somebody on offense made those plays and they had something to with making those plays and that is a good thing. We made some explosive plays today by numerous players on offense, which is good. Big plays and turnovers are as critical factors in winning football games as anything.
"Our consistency we need to improve on. It took us about half of the scrimmage to get in the flow of it on offense and when we got in the flow we made some plays and I was pleased with that. Defensively, we started out pretty good, but we did not handle adversity very well. That is something we need to work on in the future."
Saban said "intensity affects tackling," and he was not pleased with the tackling. "You can't tackle half speed," he said.
"We didn't play anything like we need to play on defense. We've got a lot of work to do."
He said the offense had some big plays on screens, draws, and in the running game.
"(Tailback)Terry Grant did a nice job running the football today and also catching it. (Fullback) Jimmy Johns did a pretty good job of blocking, as well as running. John Parker (Wilson) had a pretty good day today. He threw for 231 yards and he had a couple of big plays.
Saban said quarterback John Parker Wilson "is doing all right. He had a pretty good day today, which will help his confidence." The theme of the day was the quest for consistency, and Saban said that Wilson would benefit when the offensive unit gets more consistent.
He said the offensive line was "decent" at times, but it needs to be more consistent. He said the offense gave up too many sacks, noting that some were the result of protection breakdowns. He said there has been improvement by the offensive line this fall.
The most pleasant surprise of the scrimmage?
Saban said, "Nick Fanuzzi did a nice job for a freshman quarterback."
The coach added that he would know more about the outstanding players from the scrimmage after seeing the videotapes. "We're not looking for flash as much as we are consistency," he said.
"We did not quite get what we wanted out of the kicking game. We have a lot of work to do and we have to continue to improve. Improve the quality and also in terms of personnel. That is something that we have to continue to work on; getting the right people in the right places."
Saban noted only one health issue from Saturday's scrimmage. Freshman defensive lineman Jeremy Elder had to leave the scrimmage early after experiencing some heat-related problems, but did not appear to have a serious condition.
Saban said the time has come to begin working with the players he expects to play on Saturdays in the fall. "We've been coaching them all and giving them about equal snaps, but now we have to begin working with the ones we think will play," he said. "But today some of those I thought might be the ones didn't have that good a day."
He said a scrimmage is as close as the team can come to a game situation before a game and gives an indication who can compete. He called the evaluation from the scrimmage "critical."
The Crimson Tide will take Sunday off, but returns to practice with a pair of practices on Monday, a morning session at 9:30 a.m. and an evening workout at 7:30 p.m. at the Thomas-Drew Practice Fields. Alabama's next scrimmage of fall camp will take place next Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. All practices are closed to the public, as well as the media.
Saban said he wasn't sure how much good one off day would do. "Two would be better, but this is fall camp," he said.
Alabama will open the 2007 season against Western Carolina on September 1 at Bryant-Denny Stadium.