It was a little more than a week ago when Alabama coach Nick Saban verbally undressed his football team after a poor practice.
Following the first scrimmage of the spring Wednesday, it was clear his team got the message.
“I’m really sort of not disappointed at all,” Saban said. “It actually went a little better than I anticipated. We’re a lot further along than I thought we might be. But we have a lot of work to do for the rest of the spring, individually and collectively.”
The Crimson Tide worked for two hours in Bryant-Denny Stadium, going through approximately 130 plays, plus some special teams work, in the seventh practice of the spring. Alabama went through 11-on-11, situational, red-zone area, goalline and two-minute drills.
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“Anytime you have a scrimmage,” Saban said, “it’s a great time to evaluate players — in terms of can they go out and execute, play with intensity and do their job, play with the kind of toughness we are looking for, show that they have enough maturity to go out on their own without a coach standing behind them, telling them what to do and pushing them to do it.”
Saban noted “both first units did really well,” highlighting the play of junior linebacker Rolando McClain, junior quarterback Greg McElroy, junior running back Terry Grant and senior offensive lineman Mike Johnson.
McElroy (22-for-33, 214 yards, 4 TDs, 2 INTs), McClain (10 tackles, two sacks, 2 INTs) and Grant (18 carries for 63 yards) led their respective units, while senior tight end Colin Peek (7 catches for 33 yards and 2 TDs) led all receivers.
Saban also said McElroy is ahead of redshirt freshman Star Jackson and junior Thomas Darrah at quarterback because of “his experience and knowledge of the offense.”
Saban further emphasized, “The consistency in performance is critical at the quarterback position. ... It’s more difficult to show confidence and leadership in the huddle when you’re not sure what you’re doing.”
“(McElroy) did a really good job of managing things and showing leadership out there,” Saban said. “The other two guys (Jackson, Darrah) from a development, knowledge, confidence and understanding standpoint — that’s going to happen in time. Until that happens, we can’t make evaluations on where they are.”
While Saban downplayed the importance of the final stats (in which the Tide quarterbackscombined for six interceptions) they did offer a good perspective on how far ahead the defense is of the offense.
Sophomore linebacker Dont’a Hightower had seven tackles, while senior defensive end Lorenzo Washington had five tackles and 2 1/2 sacks. Senior nose guard Terrence Cody had three tackles and 1 1/2 sacks.
Senior safety Tyrone King (seven tackles, two interceptions) and sophomore safety Robby Green (six tackles, one interception) also impressed. Green moved over to safety from cornerback to start the spring.
Senior cornerback Javier Arenas (four tackles) and senior strong safety Justin Woodall (three tackles, one interception, one pass break up) rounded out the defense.
“I don’t think there’s any question the defense is ahead right now,” Saban said. “They are more experienced; they understand what they’re doing; they’re making less mistakes and they’re pretty confident in what they’re doing.”
Sophomore Julio Jones had five catches for 56 yards, and junior Darius Hanks had six for 34 yards., and sophomore Marquis Maze caught three for 59 yards. Sophomore tight end Chris Underwood had four catches for 32 yards.
“I’m not disappointed at all where we are right now,” Saban said. “We have a lot of work to do relative to team chemistry, relative to the vision of what this team wants to do, leadership to provide inspiration to get everybody on the same page to do it.”
Notes: Alabama sophomore running back Mark Ingram injured his hamstring during Monday’s practice and therefore did not participate in Wednesday’s scrimmage. Ingram was riding an exercise bike during the media viewing period. Saban said he would probably be out for a week, maybe two. … Senior running back Roy Upchurch and junior wide receiver Earl Alexander continued to wear black, no-contact jerseys and did not participate in the scrimmage either, but did participate in drills with their respective units. … Senior linebacker Brandon Fanney (suspension) also did not participate in Wednesday’s scrimmage. … The Tide will practice next on Friday.
ALABAMA FOOTBALL - SCRIMMAGE #1 (April 1, 2009)
*Stats include 11-on-11, situational drills, red area, goalline, 2-minute
Greg McElroy - 22 for 33, 214 yards, 4 TD, 2 INT
Thomas Darrah - 10 for 20, 81 yards, 3 INT
Star Jackson - 6 for 16, 25 yards, 1 INT
Terry Grant - 18 rush, 63 yards
Jeramie Griffin - 10 rush, 24 yards, 1 TD
Demetrius Goode - 4 rush, 23 yards
Ivan Matchett - 6 rush, 19 yards
Marquis Maze - 3 rec., 59 yards
Julio Jones - 5 rec., 56 yards, 1 TD
Mike McCoy - 3 rec., 39 yards, 1 TD
Darius Hanks - 6 rec., 34 yards
Colin Peek - 7 rec., 33 yards, 2 TD
Chris Underwood - 4 rec., 32 yards
Leigh Tiffin - Made: 45, 42, 20; Missed: 54, 45, 32.
Corey Smith - Made: 32, 18.
P.J. Fitzgerald - 4 punts, 168 yards, 42.0-yard average
Heath Thomas - 4 punts, 149 yards, 37.3-yard average
Rolando McClain - 10 tackles, 2 INT, 2 sacks
Dont’a Hightower - 7 tackles
Tyrone King - 7 tackles, 2 INT
Robby Green - 6 tackles, 1 INT
Lorenzo Washington - 5 tackles, 2.5 sacks
Javier Arenas - 4 tackles
Terrence Cody - 3 tackles, 1.5 sacks
Justin Woodall - 3 tackles, 1 INT, 1 PBU
Touchdowns - 5 (McCoy 21-yard pass from McElroy; Peek 15-yard TD pass from McElroy, Peek 4-yard pass from McElroy; Jones 10-yard pass from McElroy; Griffin 2 run).