Earlier this week, Chris Owens was asked who won Alabama’s first scrimmage, the offense or the defense. The offensive lineman’s response was a classic.
“Alabama,” Owens deadpanned. “Next question.”
A sixth-year veteran, Owens knows better than to pick sides on a topic like that. However, reports from the closed scrimmage suggest that the Crimson Tide’s defense carried the day.
Such is to be expected early in camp. The opening stages of spring are usually dominated by defense, and that’s only accentuated this offseason by the loss of eight offensive starters.
The big stage of Bryant-Denny Stadium can be a bit intimidating for younger players, even behind the doors of a closed scrimmage. The absence of a spring camp last year paired with last season’s SEC-only regular season made last week’s scrimmage the first real game-like action many of the Tide’s underclassmen received at the college level.
In large part, the goal of that workout was for Nick Saban to get an evaluation of where his team stood without the training wheels of a coach’s guidance during practice. For the most part, the head coach came away pleased, stating he was happy with his players’ intensity while noting there were plenty of nice teaching moments.
Plenty of those came on offense where Alabama’s inexperience is especially apparent. The Tide is particularly young on the offensive line where it is looking to replace three departing starters as well as starting guard Emil Ekiyor Jr. who is out this spring with an injury.
Following last week’s workout, Saban hinted at some offensive hiccups, stating that his young linemen’s heads were “swimming” with the new information they had to process. The head coach also pointed out that the team had “a lot of improvement to do, especially with twos on offense.”
A week later, Alabama will return to Bryant-Denny Stadium for its second scrimmage of camp Saturday. Now that the Tide has 11 practices and the experience of playing inside Bryant-Denny Stadium under its belt, the expectation heading into the second spring exam is one of improvement.
“The last two practices I think you see a lot of young guys who were very apprehensive and unsure, uncertain about what they were supposed to do so they didn’t play fast in the last scrimmage,” Saban said Wednesday. “I see those guys starting to get a little more confidence, and I think they’ve learned a lot from the first time in the stadium, first time in the scrimmage, first time, you know, being in a live situation in college football for a lot of them, so you look for great improvement from the first scrimmage to the second scrimmage. And, you know, certainly, that’s going to be our goal for this one.”
While Saban expects to see an uptick in performance on Saturday, he did point out that the spring can be a confusing time as the team is still installing elements into its own offense while preparing for future opponents. That can be especially challenging for younger players who still haven’t gotten a full grasp of the Tide’s playbook.
“One of the things I try to do is tell everyone to be patient,” Owens said of his message to younger teammates. “We’re not gonna be where we’re supposed to be right now because it’s only the middle of the springtime. … And we’re going against a really good defense every day. For us it’s just about being patient, trusting the process and knowing that things are going to come along eventually. But we just can’t rush them, so we have to take everything day-by-day.”
So far, this week Alabama seems to be progressing nicely, especially with its younger players.
“Just really the way guys are competing,” running back Brian Robinson Jr. explained. “We have a lot of fill-ins in places where some significant people left last season. So just seeing the progression from guys from the first practice to the 10th practice, and guys learning how to compete against each other and what it takes to be a good team and how we need to go out and work every day. So just seeing that progression from those guys is exciting.”
Saturday’s scrimmage will serve as Alabama’s 12th of 15 total workouts this spring. The Tide will practice again on Tuesday and Thursday of next before wrapping up camp with the annual A-Day game inside of Bryant-Denny Stadium on April 17.
“One thing we want to pull away from the second scrimmage is just obviously you want to see progression on both sides of the ball,” Robinson said. “I would say mainly on the offensive side of the ball, I feel like we should make a huge step from first scrimmage to the second scrimmage, and I just want to see guys go out there and compete. Which we always do, just kind of compete at a higher level to kind of see where our team is kind of at the end of spring compared to where we started in the spring. So the biggest thing I want to see out of this next scrimmage is just progression from the first scrimmage.”