Tide Improvement Impresses Saban

In Alabama's first game-type scrimmage at Bryant-Denny Stadium a week ago, Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban had noted the lack of explosive plays. In the second and final scrimmage of the pre-season Saturday, Saban saw a number of big plays and said he had seen "a significant amount of improvement."

"The first thing I would say is there was a significant amount of improvement from last week's scrimmage to this week's scrimmage," Alabama Coach Nick Saban said. Our ability to execute with consistency and performance, we made a lot more big plays. I was very pleased with the way the ones (first team) played on both sides of the ball."

On offense, big plays came from junior quarterback Greg McElroy, sophomore running back Mark Ingram and junior running back Terry Grant. McElroy completed 23 of 44 passes for 295 yards and two touchdowns, including a 66-yard strike to Ingram. Grant led all rushers with 72 yards on 12 carries and scored on a 49-yard burst.

Leading the Crimson Tide defense was sophomore linebacker Dont'a Hightower, who recorded eight tackles and added one sack. Junior Rolando McClain had seven tackles and also returned an interception 20 yards for a score. Sophomore defensive lineman Marcell Dareus and senior linebacker Eryk Anders had two sacks apiece.

Although Saban said he was pleased with the work of first team players, he said, "I was not really that pleased with the way the twos played. I think there were times they lost their poise and their ability to execute because we did play the first 50 or 60 plays just like a game. And that seemed to get those guys a little bit out of sorts, to have to play a game-like situation, respond and react to things that happened. When the offense scored several touchdowns on big plays, the first offense against the two defense, the two defense didn't show much poise and the two offense didn't show much poise in their ability to execute. Which means at the end of the day, since you're playing against yourself, you're pleased with the ones, you felt pretty good about what they were able to accomplish.

"We need more players to be able to go out there and consistently execute at their positions. It's as simple as that. There's not enough attention to detail, there's not enough discipline, control in an assignment and technique to execute the assignment. I think sometimes with the older guys --we've had a lot of practice and haven't played a game -- familiarity with things breeds relaxation, which we certainly don't want to let happen. We want the guys to keep their intensity and their sense of urgency and it's challenging this time of year.

"But we want our young players to learn how to do that and do it on a consistent basis so they can play at a higher level and have a higher standard of expectation. I think a lot of young players compete against the other guys they're playing against rather than competing against themselves to be as good as they can be and focus on the things that they need to do so they can be the best players they can be at their positions."

Saban said the Tide did not have "any significant injuries," but there were injuries to very significant players. Earlier in the week Saban had mentioned wide receiver Julio Jones suffering an ankle injury. He said that injury was aggravated in the Saturday scrimmage. Also injured in the practice was freshman tailback Trent Richardson. Saban said Richardson suffered a sprained shoulder. He said the injury to Jones was "nothing serious" and that he expected Richardson to "be okay."

Saban said that cornerback Marquis Johnson "got a little head sting out there today about halfway through the scrimmage, but he'll be fine. I don't think we really had anybody else who had any problems."

Saban discussed the absence of Jones after his injury in the scrimmage. The coach said, "I think all of the receivers made an improvement this week. (Marquis) Maze has made some plays. He made a couple of big plays yesterday in practice. He did a pretty good job today. Mark (Ingram) had three or fours catches for like 91 yards today; made some big plays coming out of the backfield. Greg threw for 295 yards and two touchdowns and Julio only caught three of them for 84 yards so there are quite a few other guys contributing. (Freshman Kenny) Norwood made a big play today. So there are quite a few guys contributing. I think that (Darius) Hanks and Maze, Earl Alexander, Mike McCoy, those guys have probably been the guys that have most consistently shown progress."

Saban said the tight ends have also done well. "I've been pleased with the tight ends and their development," he said. "Michael Williams made a nice catch today and another one down the middle that he dropped. We have some guys that are making plays. We're going to continue to work on that. I think it's important for the balance it will create in our offense."

Everyone is convinced that the only quarterback battle is for the back-up job to Greg McElroy. Saban said both Star Jackson and Thomas Darrah, the top two back-ups in spring practice, "both have sort of shown their experience a little bit in the last two scrimmages and at practice. Thomas has probably done a little bit better job of executing in the passing game, but Star has done a good job of running the offense and making plays in other ways."

If there is a question bigger than quarterback, it is the situation in the offensive line for Alabama. Saban said, "I think there was a big improvement -- not only in the first group but actually in the second group, I think -- a big improvement from last week to this week. I think we still are looking to make progress with that group. Improving the continuity of the group and our ability to sustain with consistency. I think all the guys that we have that are out there playing right now are capable. I just think we have to play with confidence and develop some unity and togetherness in the group so that they can feel good about how they go and execute. But I think they have made good progress. I'm not disappointed in the progress that they made but we realIze that they need to continue to improve, especially opening with a very good defensive team that Virginia Tech has." Asked to update the cornerback situation, Saban said, "I think Javy (Javier Arenas) and Kareem Jackson are doing really well and Marquis Johnson – those three guys, I think, have done really well. Dre Kirkpatrick was doing extremely well before his injury. B.J. Scott has made progress. Chris Rogers has experience. So we've made pretty good progress and improvement. I'm still a little bit concerned about our consistency covering the back end. I think, the last few days. We need to cut down on our errors and do a little better job focusing and executing on the back end and making plays."

The Associated Press released its college football poll on Saturday and Alabama is ranked fifth in the preseason poll. The Crimson Tide is one of five SEC teams in the preseason top 13, including Florida (No. 1), Mississippi (No. 8), LSU (No. 11) and Georgia (No. 13). Alabama's opening day opponent, Virginia Tech, is ranked seventh in the AP preseason poll.

Alabama will take Sunday and Monday off and return to the practice field on Tuesday. The 2009 season opener is two weeks away as Alabama meets Virginia Tech on Saturday, September 5, at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. The game will be televised live by ABC Sports with kick off set for 8 p.m. EDT ( 7 p.m. central time).

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