Practice This Week Pleases Saban

Alabama Coach Nick Saban joked that he was a little late to his regular Wednesday evening press briefing "because we were working extra on kickoff coverage." Undoubtedly the Crimson Tide kickoff coverage unit that has given up touchdowns in each of Bama's first two games was getting work this week, but it wasn't the emphasis on Wednesday.

Alabama, ranked fourth in the nation with a 2-0 record, hosts North Texas, 1-1, at 11:20 a.m. CDT Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The game will be regionally telecast on the Southeastern Conference Network, ESPN GamePlan, and

The Tide was in full gear for about two hours Wednesday. Although practice started outside, the threat of lightning in the area forced a move to the indoor practice facility.

Bama Coach Nick Saban said, "I've been fairly pleased with the improvement we've been able to make in practice this week. The effort has been good. The intensity has been good. The focus has been good."

He said the Tuesday practice was very good and that despite the distraction of the weather Wednesday that the work was "okay." He said Alabama's Wednesday practice was on third down and red zone situations, offensively and defensively, and said those were "emphasis points to improve on. Last week was one of our worst third down performances probably since the first year we were here, especially on defense. Red area is something we want to improve on. We've had opportunities, particularly early in games, that we haven't been able to capitalize on. So those two things have been points of emphasis. And I think we made a little bit of progress in both areas."

If there has been a theme of emphasis this season it has been Saban's push for the team "to start fast and finish strong."

He said, "Nothing happens by accident. I think the habits that they create starts with practice. How you start a practice and how you finish. All of those things are important.

"I am not displeased with where we are. Last year we had trouble finishing. This year we seem like we have trouble starting. If we can just get it all together I guess we'll be pretty good."

On the injury front, Saban said two starters from last week who were injured were back in uniform, although "they really didn't do a lot except rehab and run around a little bit." Wide receiver Julio Jones, who bruised a knee in last week's win over Florida International, and tailback Roy Upchurch, who suffered a high ankle sprain in that game, may not be able to play Saturday if they don't practice Thursday.

Saban said, "I'm not saying we have a hard and fast rule, but it's probably a pretty good rule of thumb that if a guy hasn't practiced all week, he's probably not going to be able to play in the game. And even if he's physically ready, he hasn't prepared. If you could do that, you probably wouldn't need to have practice."

Freshman wide receiver Kenny Bell, also sidelined earlier this week, was also back at practice. Bell has not played this season.

Saban was asked about the progress of quarterback Greg McElroy insofar as his improvement from the first game to the second and also about his future.

Saban said, "I think Greg improved dramatically in the first game as the game went on, as he sort of got his sea legs under him so to speak. And he continued where he left off in game two. I think that he's continued playing with a sense of urgency; he gets rid of the ball on time; he's a quick decision maker, I think that's one of the things that makes him efficient as a player, not get in a comfort zone and think ‘I don't have to do that any more; I can kind of wait and hold it here and wait for someone to get open deeper' and start getting sacked and the ball starts coming out. He's been pretty good about that.

He's a bright guy. I think he knows what he has to continue to do to be a successful player. Hopefully the players around him will continue to play at a higher level so he can continue to do that.. The more balance we have the more he can improve. I would not like to be in the situation yet where we have to put it all on the quarterback, although I think that time is going to come sometime soon. Our team on offense with balance with all the guys playing well is really going to enhance our team. And I think we are going to improve offensively if we're fortunate enough to not get a whole bunch of guys hurt."

Saban participated in the SEC Head Coaches Teleconference on Wednesday and discussed McElroy. He said, "Well, he has played extremely well for us. His consistency has been very good. His decision-making has been very good. I think he's maybe had one poor decision in each game and has been pretty accurate with the ball. I think he is spreading the ball around. He's done a good job of executing the run-checks that we have in the game. So his leadership has been good and his decision-making has been good. He is throwing the ball effectively for us. We're very pleased with the progress that he has made and we're hopeful that we'll be able to continue to improve so we can continue to develop efficiency in our passing game."

Other Saban comments Wednesday:

On North Texas' offense:

"They're a spread team and they run all the zone-option stuff, but they do it a couple of different ways, in terms of running mid-line reads and different guys getting unblocked and the quarterback reading them. So, it's a little bit different than the typical stuff that we see. Plus, they have had great balance in their offense, in terms of being able to run the ball for 200 yards a game and also be able to pass it for that. A lot of zone-option teams are really good at running it, but they can't throw it very well and that does create some issues for you, in terms of being able to play the run and being pretty good in pass defense in either/or kind of calls."

On Barrett Jones' progress:

"Barrett's done a really good job for us. He has started at right guard for us in two games. For a young player with not a great amount of experience, he certainly understands how to do things and fundamentally he is very sound in what he does. We've been very pleased with the way he's been able to play as a redshirt freshman and hopefully he will continue to improve for us and be ever better in the future."

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