TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- With a month of practice now in the books, a clear theme has emerged at the University of Alabama. It’s one you’ll find at nearly every college football program around the country in the months of March and April, and it’s quite simple: get better every day.
With just 15 practices to work with, roughly two hours each, there’s not a second to waste. When the Crimson Tide suited up for their second scrimmage of the spring on Friday, coach Nick Saban had a question for all of his players.
“Are you going to be able to go out there and play better today than you did the last opportunity you had?” he asked.
And, according to Saban, some players did.
Jalston Fowler, who ran for just 27 yards during last Saturday’s scrimmage, went off on Friday, carrying the ball 22 times for 151 yards and three touchdowns. He picked up 68 of those yards on a situational drill.
DeAndrew White, who wasn’t even in the top three in receptions last week, did enough to lead all receivers on Friday, catching five passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns. Christion Jones pitched in with five receptions for 61 yards and two touchdowns.
Still, Saban said that there are those who need to take their games to another level. The offense that dominated the last scrimmage was not as crisp this time around.
Quarterback AJ McCarron did not air it out as much as the first scrimmage, throwing it 14 fewer times than last Saturday. He completed 14 of 29 passes for 160 yards and four touchdowns on Friday. He also threw one interception.
“We didn’t seem like we were in sync but as the scrimmage went on we picked up and made some plays and did a really good job and looked very good offensively,” Saban said. “(They) took advantage of some situations and did some really good things.”
Saban said he was happy with the balance on offense and praised McCarron for being “consistently good all year, all spring.”
The Crimson Tide will practice on Tuesday and Thursday before A-Day on Saturday, April 14. In those final two practices, Saban said he wants to start game-planning for next year’s opponents, as well as continue the all important task of getting better as a team.
“That’s why we have spring practice. That’s why they call us coach. That’s why we teach. We certainly have some work to do,” Saban said. “... We’re not disappointed with where we’re at but we’re certainly not satisfied either.”
Looking for playmakers
When Saban and the rest of the Tide coaching staff set out to recruit the past two years, finding explosive playmakers was a top priority.
If there was one thing missing last year, it was a lack of big plays. Now, Saban wants players capable of scoring quick touchdowns and turning nothing into something.
“I think some of the guys we recruited in the last year are showing that,” Saban said of finding more explosive talent. “Hopefully some of the freshmen we have now will have an opportunity to do that. I think there are a few of them that will have an opportunity to do that and we have some guys coming in the fall that will also have an opportunity.”
Early on, it looks as if a handful of recruits could fit the mold. Receivers Chris Black and Amari Cooper have drawn rave reviews and running back T.J. Yeldon continues to get more and more looks with the first team.
When Landon Collins and the rest of the 2012 signing class arrive in the fall, the defense could receive an additional boost. For now, though, Saban said he’s still looking to replace impact players like Dont’a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw and Mark Barron.
“You’re always looking for playmaker-type guys on defense,” Saban said. “You never feel like you have enough on defense. I think we were very fortunate last year to have a significant amount of guys that were that way.
“Right now, we’re probably a little bit thin in terms of edge-rush guys. Both (Adrian) Hubbard and Xavier Dickson have done a nice job there but we need to develop other guys there. We don’t have the same kind of big linebackers that can do both, play linebacker and be edge rushers other than those two guys.”
Saban said he likes the number of playmakers on the defensive line, but is looking for the same production in the secondary.
“Vinnie (Sunseri) has been a playmaker most of the time. Dee Milliner has. Robert Lester has. We’ll keep working to find other guys that can make plays. Deion Belue has made some plays, so you can never find enough.”
With Marquis Maze off to chase NFL dreams, Alabama is left with a hole in the return game. Even the second-leading kick returner is gone as Trent Richardson looks to market himself as a top-5 pick in the draft.
Last year’s backup, Christion Jones, figures to play a prominent role on punt returns and could find himself returning kicks as well. Saban praised Jones on Friday, and added that he, Cooper and Milliner are the three leading candidates to return kicks.
Saban said Deion Belue, Dee Hart and Jones are the top three candidates to return punts.
A couple of players limped away from Bryant-Denny Stadium on Friday, injured from the scrimmage. Caleb Castille, Jesse Williams and Vinnie Sunseri all had ankle sprains. Saban said he didn’t think any of them were severe enough to be a serious issue.
Robert Lester, the only returning starter in the Tide secondary, strained his knee but is not expected to miss any time.
Sophomore quarterback Phillip Sims did not throw during the scrimmage, the third consecutive practice in which McCarron’s backup has been unable throw. Saban said he did use Sims in running situations in order to get him playing time.