TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The dog days have arrived.
Two weeks before opening the season with Virginia Tech, Alabama coach Nick Saban said he saw “significant” improvement in his team’s second scrimmage compared to the first. Nevertheless, he can see the strain of August’s 18 practices wearing on the psyche of the veterans.
“We’ve had a lot of practice and haven’t played a game — familiarity with things breeds relaxation, which we certainly don’t want to let happen,” Saban said. “We want the guys to keep their intensity and their sense of urgency and it’s challenging this time of year.”
Big plays, which had been missing in the other scrimmage of the preseason, were a large part of Saturday’s second and final scrimmage that included approximately 160 plays in two hours in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
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Running back Mark Ingram picked up 66 of his team-high 91 receiving yards on a touchdown pass from Greg McElroy. The top returning rusher from 2008 caught three other passes and ran eight times for 19 yards according to statistics provided by Alabama media relations.
Players were not available to speak with reporters after Saturday’s action, but Ingram had mentioned an interest in expanding his role in a Thursday interview.
“I like to think of myself as someone who can do everything,” Ingram said.
“I like to go out and catch, run between the tackles and run outside, break big runs, run in short yardage. I like to do everything.”
Terry Grant was the leading rusher with 72 yards on 12 carries — 49 of which came on one touchdown run.
McElroy threw for 295 yards on 23-of-44 passing with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Saturday’s action also revealed stark differences in the first and second teams, Saban said, which brings the level of depth into question. While complimentary of the first-teamers, the coach expressed concerns about the rest of the team.
“I think there were times they lost their poise and their ability to execute because we did play the first 50 or 60 plays just like a game,” he said. “And that seemed to get those guys a little bit out of sorts, to have to play a game-like situation, respond and react to things that happened.”
The highly-touted Crimson Tide defense put up solid numbers in spite of allowing the handful of big plays.
Linebacker Rolando McClain collected seven tackles, broke up a pass, forced a fumble and returned an interception 20 yards for a touchdown.
Eryk Anders and Marcell Dareus had a pair of sacks, while Dont’a Hightower had one among his team-high eight tackles.
Kareem Jackson, Robby Green and B.J. Scott each had one of the other three interceptions thrown by the quarterbacks.
An injury limited sophomore wide receiver Julio Jones’ playing time Saturday, but Saban said the offense had plenty of other weapons to make up for his absence. The coach listed receivers including Marquis Maze, Darius Hanks, Earl Alexander and Mike McCoy among the receivers “who have shown the most consistent progress.”
Maze paced that group with four catches and 58 yards, followed by Mike McCoy’s three receptions for 25 yards.
Freshman Kevin Norwood caught three balls for 85 yards, and tight end Brad Smelley had a team-high six receptions for 51 yards.
Having that many capable receivers, Saban said, makes it easier to balance the offensive attack.