The full-pad workout was the only one of the day for the Tigers, who practice twice on Thursday in advance of a scrimmage on Friday afternoon.
"I was really, really pleased with the effort that the players put in, the toughness that they persevered with," said Saban. "We ran sprints at the end, and quite a bit of the mental maturity and toughness we're hoping to build in the program started to show through a little bit. It will be interesting to see if we can sustain it."
Nagging injuries forced a few players to miss Wednesday's practice, but Saban said he doesn't expect to be without anyone long-term. The biggest question mark lingers over freshman strong safety Brandon Williams, who suffers with a tendon condition in his foot that causes his big toe to curl in. The affected foot is the same one Williams injured as a senior in high school and required surgery. Trainers are treating Williams' problem, and he has been available only every other day so far through the fall practice period.
Other players on the field but not in pads were linebacker Donavan Grayson, walk-on offensive lineman Seth Wilson and running back Ryan Gilbert. An academic question mark hangs over Gilbert, who has not had his test score cleared by the NCAA. He is allowed to workout with the team for 14 days while waiting on a decision from the NCAA, but Saban has not been given any indication that he will receive a ruling in the near future.
The heat got to a few players who have been battling intestinal bugs over the early portion of August. Defensive tackle Muskingum Barnes, defensive end Kyle Kipps and tight end Kory Hebert didn't make it through the length of Wednesday's practice, according to Saban. Tiger Rag saw Barnes leave the field under his own power about 10 minutes into the practice.
Saban said a point was made to stress fundamentals during the Tigers' first full-pad practice. After having gone at a fast pace during the first few days of fall camp, he said it was time to slow things down and assess how much his team had learned.
"We went back kinda to square one," Saban explained. "We had thrown a lot of stuff at them, almost the entire system and scheme, so we had a lot of confused players - especially the young kids.
"Today, we went back to fundamentals the first day in pads, limited what we had to do to see how much they could get the second time around."
The next few days should help coaches decide which of the newcomers will become contributors during the 2001 season, according to Saban. A key to determining which players make the mark will be how well they are able to apply what they've learned thus far. The coach thinks anywhere between 6 to 10 first-year players could see action right away.
While noting he was pleased with his entire freshman and transfer class, Saban said a younger player could potentially help the team out at receiver, since a replacement must be found to make up for the loss of Reggie Robinson to a season-ending neck injury. The development of a freshman receiver will probably mean more time at running back for Devery Henderson, who has spent most of August working with the receivers. Saban believes Henderson can be the biggest help to the Tigers as a running back but will continue to work him with receivers so he can become more familiar with the position, and therefore a more versatile player.
"Although we have depth at tight end," Saban continued, "I think sometimes when you have a quality player, you want to try to create a role for him, which could be the case with Marcus Spears."
Saban said there is definitely an opportunity for a couple of new offensive linemen, adding that Ben Wilkerson and Andrew Whitworth have made an impression on him to this point in fall practice. Wilkerson is also being seriously considered as the snapper on extra points and field goals.
On the defensive front, Saban said there is room for a couple of players on the line and at outside linebacker. Torran Williams and Marquise Hill could fit into the picture in the front while Dave Peterson has come on strong in the designated pass rusher's role.
In the secondary, Saban said Williams might get into the mix at strong safety if not for his foot problems.
The game plan for Friday's scrimmage calls for proven players to see minimal action, Saban indicated, while some of the back-ups and potential back-ups will be put through the bulk of the snaps to help coaches figure out who can be used in the regular season. An important factor will be how well these untested players do after cutting the umbilical cord to their position coaches.