For something that isn’t much, an awful lot of people are looking forward to Saturday when Alabama plays its annual spring game. Crimson Tide fans will prove they are interested, showing up by the many, many thousands. Certainly the players are looking forward to it. For one thing it’s a chance to perform before those multitudes. For another, it marks the end of spring football practice.
And Alabama Coach Nick Saban said, “I’m really looking forward to the game.”
The A-Day Game will begin at 2 p.m. CDT Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. As is traditionally the case at Alabama, there is no charge for admission. And although the game has often been nationally televised, this year’s game has a more restricted television range being carried by CSS.
“It's probably the closest thing to a game that we have until the opening game,” Saban said. “We play it as close to a real game; we have the first offense on one team and the first defense on the other team and they play against each other.
“Then the second offense is going to play against the second defense all the time.
“I think that makes the most competitive game. You can play these games best against the rest, you can use a points system, you can let them draft. I've done it every way you can do it. We've kind of settled here on doing it this way. And I think this is going to be the best way to help our team develop and get ready for the season. It's a new team, and I think this situation will really help them.”
Saban likes the idea of the A-Day Game being televised. For several years it was on national cable, ESPN.
“I think the exposure is great,” he said. “I think some people have cut back on that a little bit this year. Most of the games are being done regionally. Any time that there's any kind of exposure that benefits the players, gives the players exposure and The University and our team exposure, I think it's a real positive. And we encourage that every opportunity we get.”
Although it is called a “game,” this intrasquad match is actually a scrimmage. There has been discussion of teams playing spring games against other schools. It was predictable that Saban would not be in favor of that arrangement, but he also sees the appeal it would have to fans.
“I really like spring practice the way it is right now because you can really focus on trying to develop unknowns in your players, which I think is really important,” Saban said. “I think that's the real value of spring practice.”
If a team had to prepare for a game, he said, “you would sort of have to abort your fundamental teachings of what you were trying to do to develop your team. And I’m not sure that would have as much benefit, especially this time of year.”
On the other hand, Saban said, “I always thought, coaching in the NFL for eight years and being used to playing exhibition games, if we were going to play a game that would get you more ready for the season, maybe you'd play an exhibition game before the season started if somebody wanted to talk about that. I've never mentioned that. I don't hink it's necessary. I think we have a good game the way it is.”
He pointed to the competitiveness of the Southeastern Conference, and also to the practice of playing high profile, non-conference opponents, particularly in a neutral venue. This year Alabama opens the season agaist Michigan in the Dallas Cowboys Stadium.
Saban spent several minutes prior to the start of his post-practice media briefing saying that he hoped there would be a large crowd for Saturday’s A-Day Game. He said his players appreciate the support of Bama’s traditionally large attendance in the spring, and added that it’s good for recruiting.
Alabama’s next-to-last practice of the spring had the players in shorts.
“We did a lot of team situations today very much like we do on a Thursday before a game in the regular season,” Saban said. “We got a lot of situations covered, and had a pretty good focus out there for the last practice. I didn't get the feeling that anybody was just sort of punching the clock. I thought it was pretty good.”
He said that tailback Eddie Lacy, tailback Blake Sims (hip), and offensive tackle Arie Kounandjio (knees), who missed all spring work, would be held out of the game and that others are questionable.
Saban said he believes the team “made some improvement as a team. It will show, I think, on Saturday just how much it is.”
He didn’t want to reveal those who had shown the most improvement, saying that following the game he will announce the winners of the spring training awards. “We have lots of guys who have improved,” he said. “Some of the really good guys on the team have improved. And we’ve had some young guys who have made a tremendous amount of improvement, and probably still need to make a tremendous amount of improvement based on the standard of excellence we have.”
He did say that quarterback A.J. McCarron, the offensive line, and the defensive line were areas where there had been improvement.