- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- When Adrian Hubbard hit the field on Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium, it was as if a light went on.
Game on. Ready to go.
The soft-spoken redshirt sophomore from Lawrenceville, Ga., lit up the Tide offense, scoring seven tackles, three sacks and four tackles for loss at the A-Day scrimmage, impressing coaches and taking home the Dwight Stevenson Lineman of the Game Award for his work.
Last year Hubbard played in eight games as a reserve linebacker, backing up Courtney Upshaw at the jack position. But with his performance Saturday, the 6-foot-6, 248-pounder let more than 78,000 fans know he was ready to step his game up to another level.
Even after the game, Hubbard wasn’t satisfied with where he stood. With fall practice four months away, there’s still work to be done.
“There’s always room for improvement,” Hubbard said. “You can’t think you’ve ever arrived somewhere. When you’ve done that, you shouldn’t be playing anymore.”
Jesse Williams, who helped pave the way for Hubbard at nose guard, said he’s been impressed by his teammate’s growth during the spring.
Also, Hubbard’s size and versatility certainly help.
“Adrian is a really good pass-rusher,” Williams said. “He’s really elusive. He shakes dudes down off the edge and stuff like that. I feel more comfortable when I’m rushing outside him because he’s going to keep it contained.”
The defensive line looked to be playing quite comfortably on Saturday, pressuring the quarterback and aiding in three interceptions. Together with the linebackers, the Tide had 12 tackles for loss and eight sacks.
Williams said after the game that he’s been pleased with the depth on the defensive line and singled out a few in particular.
“We have a lot of good guys, a lot of new guys stepping up like Chris Bonds, Anthony Orr, a whole bunch of them,” Williams said. “We had a lot of new guys come in at crucial positions. The way they gelled and the way the older guys picked up the younger guys is good.”
Sims works through the pain
The work of Phillip Sims at quarterback came as somewhat of a pleasant surprise to fans as well as the coaching staff.
The sophomore had experienced soreness in his throwing shoulder for several weeks that kept him out of two scrimmages and limited his practice time. On Thursday, Nick Saban said he’d try and work Sims in at A-Day, if only to get a few short throws in and get the feel of running an offense back.
So when Sims began dropping back and looking downfield, things got interesting.
Sims finished the day 9-of-12 for 135 yards and two touchdowns.
“I think Phillip did a good job,” Saban said. “Phillip is not 100 percent. He’s got a strained muscle in his shoulder. It’s limited his practice time. It’s limited his scrimmage time. I thought he looked a little rusty in the beginning. But definitely played a little better in the third quarter. He made some big plays and that’s good.
“We’re hoping that he’ll be able to heal up now and we can give him the rest he needs from throwing the ball so that we can get him healed up and he can make the progress he needs in the future that he needs to continue to improve.”
Getting off on the right foot
Whatever Cody Mandell learned over the spring, it’s sunk in. The big-legged junior from Louisiana had a huge day on Saturday, booming 16 punts for an average of 44.15 yards per attempt.
Saban said Mandell’s improvement was noticeable even before A-Day.
“He already had gotten one of the most improved player awards before he ever punted today,” Saban said. “He’s really punted better all spring. We always felt like Cody had the ability to do it, it was just consistency in whether it was drop, or long steps, or whatever. I just think that he’s a little more -- has a little more maturity about duplicating what he does over and over again.”
Saban went on, attempting to put Mandell’s progress into more layman’s terms.
“Punting and kicking is a lot like golf,” Saban said. “I play five holes very well and hit it straight. And then I start hooking it or slicing it because I can’t stay in it -- always wanting to do better, hit it little further, hit it a little harder. That’s what those guys have to overcome, too. They get out of rhythm, out of sync. They start shanking them, dropping them inside. That’s always been his problem but I think now he’s been in a place all spring where his consistency is much, much better. He seems to be a lot more confident in what he’s doing.”
20hSam Khan Jr.