University of Alabama

Alabama football: Defense flops while passing game flies in scrimmage; coach Nick Saban says players need to grow up and mature

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The blows just keep coming for the Alabama secondary.

This time, it’s injuries plaguing the defensive backs after Saturday’s scrimmage in Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Four went down with relatively mild ailments, as did running back Mark Ingram, although coach Nick Saban was quick to say the returning Heisman Trophy winner was just fine after getting the wind knocked out late in the day.

The defensive backs, though, have bigger issues.

“It’s just one thing after another in the secondary in terms of changes in personnel,” Saban said following the scrimmage that was closed to the public and the media. “It started in the spring, losing guys, suspending guys, getting guys hurt now, so we can’t get the continuity that we’d like. We’re going to stay positive about it. We like some of the players that we have; we just have to get them on the field and work them, and they have to stay healthy enough to stay on the field.”

Saturday’s injured defensive backs included Dequan Menzie (pulled hamstring), DeMarcus Milliner (twisted ankle), Robert Lester (concussion) and Blake Sims (sprained foot). Menzie, a Carver High graduate and junior college transfer, is also coming off a torn Achilles’ tendon suffered in April that was considered a season-ender for this year.

Safety Robbie Green was suspended for the 2010 season, due to an unspecified situation with the NCAA, and Rod Woodson recently transferred to North Alabama.

Offensively, the Tide put up big numbers. Greg McElroy completed 26-of-33 passes for 360 yards in the statistics provided from the scrimmage that included 11-on-11, situational drills, red zone, goal line and 2-minute drills.

Throwing the ball around was supposed to help the young secondary improve, but, injuries aside, Saban still didn’t like what he saw from the defense. Immaturity, he said, was a factor.

“I don’t think, defensively as a whole, we played very well at all,” Saban said. “I don’t think we played good gap control up front. We didn’t tackle. We didn’t finish. We didn’t clean up tackles and knock players back. We didn’t have the eye of the tiger that we needed to be a good defensive team, and that’s all 11 of them.”

Players were not available to the media.

More troubling than the breakdowns, Saban said, was his team’s inability to deal with the hot weather after practicing indoors Wednesday and Friday after two-a-days outside Tuesday and Thursday. The energy level was much better indoors.

“And as soon as we come back out here, it’s like, ‘Woe is me. This is really something,’” Saban said. “And we’re going to have to play a game, maybe not like this, but something that’s going to be difficult, and we’d like to be able to have the kind of mental toughness that would let us make that an advantage for us, not a disadvantage. I think that’s maturity too, and I think that’s the biggest thing about this team. We have a lot of young players, especially on defense, and they need to grow up and they need to mature.”

The defense did create two turnovers, as B.J. Scott and C.J. Mosley intercepted passes, and it held the four Tide running backs to an average of 3 yards per carry. Ingram had 28 yards on nine carries with a touchdown, followed by Trent Richardson’s 24 yards on eight carries and two touchdowns.

But it was the passing game’s day to shine as the three quarterbacks combined to complete 52-of-69 passes (75.4 percent) for 698 yards and nine touchdowns. AJ McCarron went 21-for-26 for 241 yards with two touchdowns and both interceptions, while true freshman Phillip Sims was 5-for-10 for 97 yards and a score.

Julio Jones was the top target with seven catches for 99 yards and two touchdowns, followed by Marquis Maze (six catches, 51 yards) and Earl Alexander of Central-Phenix City (five catches, 87 yards).