First Vs, First In A-Day Game

It will be the first offense against the first defense when Alabama has its annual spring football game Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Kickoff for the final practice of the spring will be at 2 p.m. CDT. There is no charge for admission and the game will be telecast by ESPN.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban met with reporters Thursday at noon, prior to the Crimson Tide's 14th spring football practice, to discuss Saturday's A-Day Game. Originally, Bama had planned to practice Monday and Wednesday this week. Because of the Easter weekend following last Friday's scrimmage, Saban elected to change practice days to Tuesday and Thursday. Because he had a Thursday evening speaking engagement in Mobile, he met with the media prior to practice.

Saban said the players and coaches look forward to the game. He noted that the coaches are "anxious" to see how the players react to a situation that is somewhat game-like. He also noted that there would be some limitations on what the teams are permitted to do.

The Tide coach noted that over the years he has used various formats in spring games. He said this year's would be the same as in 2008, meaning the first offense will go against the first defense. (The second defense will be on the same team with the first offense, and the second offense will be with the first defense.)

"We think it's important for the offense to have continuity and go against good competition," Saban said. He said the format would be challenging for the quarterback and the offensive line.

As with everything about spring practice, the A-Day Game is designed "for the development of the team, the best thing to help us next season."

At stake for the players and coaches is a meal where the winners get steaks, the losers eat beans.

Saban announced that at least three players would be held out of the scrimmage for health reasons. Wide receiver Earl Alexander and tailback Roy Upchurch have participated in practice throughout the spring, but have been held out of contact drills as they recuperate from surgeries, Alexander a shoulder, Upchurch his neck. Also being held out as a precaution is tailback Mark Ingram, who suffered a hamstring injury during the spring.

The Tide coach also announced that sophomore placekicker Corey Smith had asked for and been granted a request to be released from his scholarship so that he could transfer to another school. Smith is rumored to be going to West Virginia. He is from Bunker Hill, W. Va.

In answer to a question as o whether the 2009 defense could be as good as the 2008 defense, Saban said the process involves getting every player to improve and, thereby, having the unit improve. He pointed out that there were some big shoes to fill on defense (safety Rashad Johnson and end Bobby Greenwood were the only graduates from the unit).

He also said he wants that improvement by every player. "We want all parts of the program to improve," he said.

Saban has said that it is "not critical" that final decisions be made on various positions. In response to a question, he said there is a "little better feeling" about the players at quarterback and in the offensive line.

"I don't think there's any question that (quarterback) Greg McElroy performed with more consistency than the other quarterbacks," Saban said. The coach pointed out that McElroy had more experience and more knowledge of the offense than the others, so McElroy being ahead of the others was not unexpected.

As for the offensive line, he said there had been "a lot of competition." He added that he wants to see the linemen "improve individually and as a group." Saban mentioned the work of center William Vlachos, left guard Mike Johnson, left tackle James Carpenter (a junior college transfer who entered The University in January), right tackle Drew Davis and John Michael Boswell. The coach noted that "we're still moving guys around," and pointed to Boswell, who had been listed as the number one right guard, working at tackle on Saturday.

Asked about players who had been pleasant surprises, Saban noted safety Robby Green (a former cornerback), the receiving corps, and McElroy. He added that McElroy "wasn't a surprise to me, but might be to some."

As an example of the importance of spring practice, Saban said that some freshmen who moved into the starting lineup in the fall got additional work in the spring. It's "difficult to multi-task" a freshman starter, Saban explained. As an example he said that wide receiver Julio Jones played only X (split end) in the fall, and so he wasn't "hidden" from defenders. The implication was that Jones has worked at other wide receiver spots in the spring.

On the defensive side he mentioned Dont'a Hightower as someone who had limited defensive assignments as a true freshman weakside linebacker last fall. In the spring Hightower has been involved in nickel situations and as a "sub rush end" and outside linebacker.

"Everyone can improve his techniques," Saban said. "We want to play to our strengths, but we also want to improve our weaknesses."

He believes that character plays a role in the player's ability to improve because he has to be "willing to work hard to be as good as he can be. We had a lot of players do that."

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