Cautious Optimism In Alabama Camp

Though his demeanor may sometimes belie the message, Alabama Coach Nick Saban generally has an optimistic outlook regarding his Crimson Tide football team. He sometimes preaches about the benefits of positive energy, and he practices what he preaches.

That was generally the case Saturday following the first Alabama football scrimmage of fall camp. The two-hour work at Bryant-Denny Stadium included seven-on-seven drills, third down situations, red zone, goalline, two-minute drills and kicking. Alabama Coach Nick Saban said he knew the team was tired after having had two practices Saturday and then going out for a scrimmage Saturday. He said the scrimmage ran a little longer than expected so that five quarterbacks could get work. The Crimson Tide gets an off day from practice Sunday, then has two practices Monday.

Saban knocked on his wooden podium as he acknowledged that the Tide has had good injury luck thus far. He said that "hustling and enthusiasm" had been good. He said "8-12 freshmen may be able to help this team in some role," and repeated his regular message that he is "not disappointed in anyone." In addition to Jones, Saban mentioned linebacker Don't'a Hightower and safety Mark Barron

Saban made light of scrimmage statistics, but said he was pleased with the effort given by his team and cited big plays by the offense. There are reasons that raw numbers from a scrimmage can be misleading. For one thing, every good offensive play can be marked down as a poor defensive play. In Saturday's work, it was mostly the first offense against the second defense, second offense vs. first defense. There are other factors. A back-up quarterback working with the first offensive unit has advantages over a back-up quarterback working with the second or third offense.

"I thought we had a good first scrimmage today," Saban said. "We made some really good plays out there today; we made some really big plays." He also said there was "good hitting."

Saban said that each player has to make a commitment to do what he can to improve and give the team its best chance for improvement. He cited effort, toughness, and ability in execution.

Saban cited quarterback John Parker Wilson and wide receivers Mike McCoy, Julio Jones and Marquis Maze on offense and junior college transfer nose tackle Terrence Cody on defense. He said that P.J. Fitzgerald had been the most consistent punter and that placekicker Leigh Tiffin "kicked pretty well."

Saban noted that Wilson threw for "over 300 yards and two touchdowns," but pointed out the upcoming senior quarterback had two interceptions. "He has done a better job of making decisions," Saban said. "When he has a bad play now, it's not always bad judgment. It could be a tipped ball, for instance. He doesn't make many bad decisions."

Saban said that all the quarterbacks did some good and some back. He said that Greg McElroy is probably the number two quarterback. "Greg is the guy most comfortable with the offense," the coach said, and noted that McElroy has been most consistent of the back-ups.

He said freshman Star Jackson, soph Nick Fanuzzi and walkon freshman Thomas Dorrah had all "shown they can develop into good players." Saban said "we're going to have to decide who we invest our time with" in attempting to develop a back-up to Wilson. He said the process might be first determining who is best of the Jackson-Fanuzzi-Waldrop group before determining who is number two.

Saban said that evaluations from the first scrimmage would be part of the process in coming up with players in roles. Currently, he said, players are in groups, an allusion to the premise that there is no depth chart. An interesting aspect of that, he said, is that as NFL teams begin to pare their rosters, they sometimes keep a player who is not as good as one who is cut. The reason cited was a team getting a younger player on the way up who would be of greater long-term value to the team.

"It's a challenge for us because of depth and experience in certain positions," Saban said.

Saban said Alabama makes a great effort to practice safely, pointing to keeping players off the ground and players being in good condition and having had good strength training. Still, he said, "We've been lucky so far," he said. "Sometimes you have no control over injuries. In football, sometimes you just get them."

As for scrimmage specifics, Saban said, "Mike McCoy made two or three really big plays. He had some big catches. He caught the ball and ran with it and scored. Julio (Jones) made a couple of big plays and scored."

McCoy, a junior from Rankin, Miss., caught three passes for 119 yards and one touchdown for the Tide. Jones, a true freshman from Foley, added two catches for 59 yards and one touchdown. Tailback Glen Coffee had six receptions for 79 yards, running back Mark Ingram three catches for 31 yards Tight end Colin Peek, who is not expected to be eligible this year as a transfer from Georgia Tech, had three receptions for 27 yards.

Alabama senior quarterback John Parker Wilson, who was graduated from The University earlier Saturday, completed 17-of-30 passes for 309 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Wilson attended graduation ceremonies at Coleman Coliseum with teammates Rashad Johnson and Drew Davis before reporting for the scrimmage.

"John Parker threw for 300 yards out there today," Saban said. "On third (down), he made some big plays out there today. It's a good thing that we are making big plays on offense." McElroy was good on 9-of-18 for 146 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions.

Coffee led all rushers with 14 carries for 42 yards and one touchdown. Ingram had 11 carries for 42 yards and a touchdown and Terry Grant had nine carries for 32 yards.

Tiffin was good on three of five field goals, connecting from 48 yards, 38 and 23 and missing from 38 and 51. Fitzgerald averaged 42.6 yards on seven punts.

Defensively, Johnson, a senior defensive back from Sulligent, had a good day after receiving his degree with four tackles, two pass break-ups and an interception. Sophomore linebacker Charlie Higgenbotham, a native of Mountain Brook, led all tacklers with eight stops while sophomore linebacker Rolando McClain of Decatur added five tackles and an interception. Hightower had five tackles, including one for loss. Ali Sharrief hd five tackles and broke up a pass. Eryk Anders hd four tackles, two for loss.

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