Saban Continues To Be Pleased
Alabama had a scrimmage of approximately 120 plays in Bryant-Denny Stadium that was open to various support groups, but not the media. Statistics provided by The University and comments from Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban indicated it was a successful practice. That has been the case throughout the spring.
Alabama has three practices remaining, workouts on Tuesday and Thursday and the A-Day Game at 2 p.m.CDT next Saturday, April 17. There is no admission charge for the Crimson-White Game, which will be nationally televised by ESPN.
Saban said Saturday that he was not sure what the format of the A-Day Game would be, except that he has eliminated the "best against the rest" option. He said the public performance to conclude spring training would be designed -- as all practices -- to make the team better. He pointed out that historically he has preferred to play "best against best and twos vs. twos," so that one team is made up of the first offense and second defense, the other squad the first defense and second offense. But he emphasized that the final plan has not been made.
Conventional wisdom this spring had it that the offense, with quarterback Greg McElroy, Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram at tailback, Julio Jones at wide receiver, and several members of the offensive line returning would be far ahead of the defense, which is replacing no fewer than eight starters. But Saban said that wasn't the case in Saturday's scrimmage and has not been the case in every practice this spring, though it was in the first scrimmage.
"I think the first defense played better," Saban said following Saturday's scrimmage. "They didn't give up the number of big plays and the tackling was better. I think we were more physical, and we affected the quarterback more. A lot of the things that you need to do to win, we were a little better at. We didn't make quite as many mental errors. "
Junior defensive end Marcell Dareus provided consistent pressure on the Crimson Tide quarterbacks with five sacks, 10 tackles and several more quarterback hurries. Junior linebacker Dont'a Hightower made eight tackles and recorded two sacks while Courtney Upshaw notched three sacks and four total tackles.
The Alabama offense was solid once again with all four of the quarterbacks managing the increased pass rush and producing solid numbers while junior Mark Ingram led the way on the ground with 72 yards on 19 carries and one touchdown.
McElroy completed 17-of-27 passes for 156 yards and a score while redshirt freshman A.J. McCarron was 17 of 30 for 215 yards and three touchdowns. True freshman Phillip Sims missed on only four passes in 19 attempts for 139 yards while Star Jackson was 10 for 17 for 91 yards. Julio Jones and Brandon Gibson led the receiving corps with Jones going for 117 yards on nine receptions and two touchdowns while Gibson grabbed 10 balls for 74 yards and a score.
"The first offense, who played very, very well in the last scrimmage, continued to make some big plays and continued to do things well," Saban said. "I think they were a little more challenged today. I think all four quarterbacks played well today, and had pretty good passing stats. We did have a couple of turnovers – a couple of interceptions – that we didn't have in the last scrimmage. I think that was probably due to better play on defense, closer coverage and more pressure on the quarterback."
He singled out tailbacks Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, and wide receivers Julio Jones and Brandon Gibson. He said Gibson worked with the offense, while another wide receiver -- Kendall Kelly -- played safety throughout the scrimmage. He said he thinks both could play safety. He said work this spring was done with the anticipation that Robby Green would not be with the team. Green has been suspended for the 2010 season.
"We didn't pass protect as well," he said. "We had more pressure on the quarterbacks, more sacks, more scrambles."
Saban said the kicking game was "better." He said, "I think two things. I'm encouraged by the progress that both kickers (returning walk-on Jeremy Shelley and freshman scholarshipped placekicker Cade Foster) have made. We have recruited a punter for the fall and hope to have someone else come so we have competition. The punting has been very, very inconsistent, but I have been very pleased with the progress we have made in field goal and kickoff kicking and the progress we have made in our teams. We didn't have lots of errors or issues in the kicking game. We just have inconsistency in the punting that we will hopefully get solved in the fall. We need to have the guys who are here develop more consistency."
Saban said, "We scrimmaged more situations today. Those things are good in terms of knowledge and experience."
Linebacker Nico Johnson, who suffered a slightly sprained knee in the last scrimmage; offensive lineman Chad Lindsay, who also has a slightly sprained knee; and defensive end Milton Talbert, who is being held out of contact after undergoing off-season shoulder surgery, were held out of the practice. Saban said he did not think there were any significant injuries in Saturday's scrimmage.
He also said that linebacker Tana Patrick, who suffered a slight concussion in last week's scrimmage, was able to participate Saturday.
Overall, Saban said, "I thought the improvement we made -- which I sort of expected, anticipated, hoped for -- between the first scrimmage and the second scrimmage was especially in certain players, certain people at certain positions, was something that we would see enhanced themselves in today's scrimmage.
"And I was very pleased with that.
"I think the big message to me is consistency in performance. Define success. That's the message I had for the players after the scrimmage. We sort of have days that one side of the ball or another will do extremely well and then maybe not do as well the next day out. We have three opportunities to improve as a team from here on out … the two practices and the A-Day Game to help our team improve and get better. Consistency and performance define success.
"You can't be complacent or be satisfied -- in the last practice, the last play, the last game, the last season.
"This team has to challenge itself to create an identity for itself based on the things that it does, the personality that it has, and that will be made up of the individuals and the competitive character they have and consistency in performance will be the most important thing in us having success. You can't play for one game and be down the next. You can't play one game and be down the next game. You can't play for one season and be down the next. Those are challenges to human nature that I think that we definitely need to make sure that every individual on our team is doing the things he needs to do to develop consistency in performance."
Saban said, "I don't think we always practice the way we need to continue to get better. Sometimes younger players don't understand the intensity you have to play with day-in and day-out, play-in and play-out. Intensity, sense of urgency, the intelligence you have to play with, the focus you have to have to be able to play that way. Part of that is experience and maturity.
"But we're coming along. I was pleased with the progress that a lot of players made today."
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