TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Through 10 days and 12 practices, the Alabama football team prepared.
For most of the past week, it installed plays.
So by Saturday, it was ready to see how much progress it had made.
With more than 92,000 empty seats as witnesses, the Crimson Tide lined up for the first of two closed August scrimmages to do some evaluating in Bryant-Denny Stadium. A loose structure allowed the team to run 25-30 plays under regular circumstances before working on specialized scenarios, such as goal-line situations.
Coach Nick Saban said he generally was pleased with the progress after nearly two hours yielded close to 150 plays.
The coach said the first two teams on offense and defense performed at a high level, but the drop off after that was noticeable.
The first two drives resulted in a missed field goal and a touchdown.
“From a quarterback standpoint, Greg McElroy really showed poise, did a nice job out there and moved the team effectively,” Saban said.
Players were not made available to reporters after the scrimmage.
McElroy, a junior, completed 17 of 29 passes for 188 yards and one touchdown and no interceptions, according to statistics released by Alabama media relations. Sophomore wide out Julio Jones was a favorite target . Last season’s leading receiver pulled in a team-high six passes for 100 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown pass from McElroy.
Jones was followed by freshman Kevin Norwood (3-60), former Central-Phenix City standout Earl Alexander (three catches for 47 yards) and Darius Hanks (4-37).
Third-down situations were not a bright spot for the offense although Saban said he was pleased with the play in the open field, in the red zone and near the goal line.
Although Saban said the stats weren’t the best indicator, he was fine with the way his running backs performed. Mark Ingram had three touchdowns among his 17 rushes and 55 yards — both team-highs. After Ingram, five running backs carried the ball; freshman Eddie Lacy’s 22 yards on three carries was the second-highest total.
When looking at the numbers for freshmen AJ McCarron and Trent Richardson, Saban said to consider that both played with other inexperienced players. The rookie quarterback McCarron completed 6-of-14 passes for 40 yards and an interception while the running back carried five times for 18 yards and a touchdown.
“Trent Richardson is really a good running back, but he didn’t really play with the first team today,” Saban said. “I’m sure if he did, he would have played better. AJ McCarron has showed some potential as a young quarterback. If we would have played him with the best receivers we have, he probably would have had a better chance to show some efficiency and effectiveness.”
Linebacker Rolando McClain led the defence with eight tackles, while fellow linebacker Dont’a Hightower made an impact in the backfield. The sophomore made seven tackles, two for loss including a sack and broke up a pass.
Eryk Anders had three sacks among his four tackles, and Marcell Dareus contributed five tackles and two sacks.
Putting pressure on the quarterback has been a point of emphasis this offseason. The goal, Saban said, reaches beyond sack totals. Moving the pocket, deflecting and speeding up passes made the coach’s wish list.
“We have nine goals on defense of things that we want to accomplish, and none of them say anything about sacks,” Saban said. “Passing efficiency and affecting the quarterback is one. But sacks are not the only way you affect the quarterback.”
Moving forward following the first scrimmage, the Tide will get today as its first off day since opening practice. Then one final two-a-day is scheduled for Monday before classes begin Wednesday.
The second and final planned scrimmage is set for next Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
“I think the most important thing is how these young guys develop from this week to next week,” Saban said. “There is a lot of anxiety, going out there for the first time today. But how they develop between this week and next week will determine a lot in how much they’ll be able to contribute to this year’s team.”Scrimmage stats
Passing: Greg McElroy - 17 for 29, 188 yards, 1 TD, 0 Int.; Thomas Darrah - 5 for 11, 109 yards, 2 TDs, 0 Int.; Star Jackson - 5 for 13, 40 yards, 0 TD, 1 Int.; A.J. McCarron - 6 for 14, 21 yards, 0 TD, 1 Int.
Rushing: Mark Ingram - 17 rush, 55 yards, 3 TDs; Eddie Lacy - 3 rush, 21 yards, 0 TDs; Terry Grant - 8 rush, 18 yards, 1 TD; Trent Richardson - 5 rush, 18 yards, 1 TD; Roy Upchurch - 4 rush, 17 yards, 0 TDs.
Receiving: Julio Jones - 6 rec. 100 yards, 1 TD; Darius Hanks - 4 rec., 37 yards, 0 TD; Kevin Norwood - 3 rec., 60 yards, 1 TD; Earl Alexander - 3 rec., 46 yards, 0 TD; Mike McCoy - 3 rec., 29 yards, 0 TD; Preston Dial - 3 rec., 20 yards, 0 TD; Brandon Gibson - 1 rec., 14 yards, 1 TD.
Rolando McClain (LB) - 8 tackles; Dont’a Hightower (LB) - 7 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack, 1 PBU; Marcell Dareus (DL) - 5 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 TFL; Justin Woodall (DB) - 5 tackles, 1 TFL; Robby Green (DB) - 5 tackles; Mark Barron (DB) - 4 tackles; Javier Arenas (DB) - 4 tackles; Eryk Anders (LB) - 4 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 TFL; Chris Jordan (LB) - 4 tackles, 1 FF; Ali Sharrief (DB) - 4 tackles, 1 INT.
Rushing touchdowns (5): Mark Ingram - 3 (2 yards, 2 yards, 1 yard); Terry Grant - 1 (3 yards); Trent Richardson - 1 (3 yards).
Receiving touchdowns (3): Julio Jones - 1 (34 yards); Kevin Norwood - 1 (44 yards); Brandon Gibson - 1 (14 yards).