“The reason you have a first scrimmage is to find out where you are,” Alabama Coach Nick Saban said following the Crimson Tide’s two-hour workout. “One thing you find is that things happen not so much because of what the other guy did, but because of what you didn’t do.”
Alabama will have another closed scrimmage next Saturday, then have its spring game on April 12. Saban noted that Alabama had fewer practices before the first scrimmage this year than last year.
This year’s spring practice schedule is unusual in that there were two days of non-contact practices prior to The University’s spring break before the Tide went into pads last Monday after a nine-day interruption.
Bama will not complete spring practice with the A-Day game. The 15th and final practice will be on Monday, April 14.
Saban said, “There were a lot of good things out there. We get an opportunity to evaluate our players out there playing and competing without the coaches telling them what to do or making the calls for them. I think that’s the next step of being ready to play. It will be interesting when we do the evaluation to figure out where we are.”
He reiterated the spring goals of finding as many players as possible and of making all players better.
He also said, “I’m not disappointed with where we are, but we are certainly not where we need to be. We are going to continue to work on that.”
He said, “I’m not sure we’re playing as fast as we need to.”
Saban said that, “I didn’t see anyone who was disappointing or anyone who jumped out as outstanding.”
It’s never a surprise when the defense looks beter than the offense in a first scrimmage.
Saban said, “There was a lot of good hitting out there. We had some good, crisp hits. We had a few missed tackles, but I'm pleased with the tackling compared to where we were last year at this time. I thought the defense played well, got lots of turnovers. They seemed a lot more confident in their second year in the system.”
Rarely does a post-practice session with Saban go by without a question about Jimmy Johns, who has moved from back-up tailback to possibly being the starting weakside linebacker in his senior season. As he has said before, Saban noted that Johns is doing well, but sometimes makes the mistakes of inexperience.
The coach noted that one sign of leadership on the team is that Bama has a number of very smart players on defense “and they don’t have a lot of tolerance for guys who make mistakes, and that’s an example of leadership. They set a high standard, and it’s a situation where you have someone besides a coach correcting them.”
Saban noted the offense had too many dropped passes.
Nevertheless, the coach passed out some compliments. “Andre Smith, Antoine Caldwell and Mike Johnson all played pretty well on the offensive line,” said Saban.
“We got pretty consistent performance out of our tight ends. Will Oakley and Nikita Stover have been a little bit beat up. That hurt us at wide receiver. Mike McCoy had a nice day today, made some good catches. Overall, we probably dropped too many balls."
"If you are going to be able to throw the ball consistently, you’ve got to be able to catch it consistently, throw it where they can catch it and protect it well enough so you don’t get negative plays with sacks.”
Saban said that quarterback John Parker Wilson is improved in his footwork and passing accuracy. The head coach said there are “a lot of similarities in the running game and some similarities in the passing game” under new Offensive Coordinator Jim McElwain.
Alabama’s back-up quarterbacks, Greg McElroy and Nick Fanuzzi, didn’t have a good scrimmage, Saban said, but also said they didn’t get many opportunities. He said there is a “significant difference” in where the back-ups are compared to Wilson, citing Wilson’s confidence and leadership qualities. Wilson is expected to start for the third consecutive year in 2008.
The running back corps has been injury-plagued, but Saban said Terry Grant had a good day. Grant suffered a sports hernia last fall, but Saban said he appears to be back to the form he had when he was Alabama’s starting tailback early last fall. “He’s had a good spring,” Saban said.
Tailback Glen Coffee is among those not taking part in contact work.
Saban said, “The guys in black jerseys (which indicate no contact) got through practice, but don’t take part in the contact work of scrimmage."
Saban said it was possible that Coffee, who had post-season shoulder surgery, and some others now in black might be back before spring practice ends.
Defensive lineman Nick Gentry (who is playing primarily at defensive end) was in red Saturday, but Saban said he had almost no work because of a bad ankle.
There is particular interest in returning starting strongside linebacker Ezekial Knight, who has been eliminated from practice by a condition that Saban said may be related to an earlier situation. Following the 2006 season Knight had heart surgery. The Tide coach reiterated in the strongest possible terms that Knight would not return until his medical situation was absolutely certain.
Saban said a couple of others have been added to the injury list. He said that defensive lineman Brian Motley suffered a broken finger that required surgery to insert a pin. He may or may not return this spring.
Travis Sikes, who has been listed both as a wide receiver and defensive back, suffered a broken elbow this week and is not expected to return to action this spring.
Cornerback Lionel Mitchell missed early practices, then returned to work last Monday. He’s back in a black jersey now because of a nerve problem in his lower back, a condition he has been trying to recover from since the end of last season.
Saban said the work of special teams players was “only okay. We have struggled some in consistency.”
He said that placekicker Leigh Tiffin missed two “makeable” field goals in the scrimmage, but Tiffin also hit a 49-yard effort and also made an “end of game” 47-yard field goal.
He said Tiffin is working on trying to be longer on kickoffs. The coach said freshman Corey Smith is working both on field goals and punting and has a strong leg.