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August 13, 2011TUSCALOOSA | On a day that the University of Alabama offense was said to have struggled to run the ball effectively against its defensive teammates, cohesion on the offensive front was among the primary topics UA coach Nick Saban touched on following the Crimson Tide's first scrimmage of fall camp.
"There is a lot of competition in the offensive line. We have six or seven players who are pretty good players, and maybe all guys I would consider starters," Saban said. "... But only five of those guys are going to play."
Barrett Jones, one of the top guards in the Southeastern Conference, is part of the competition at the left tackle position - the only spot on the UA line that does not return a starter from 2010. Saban indicated that freshman Cyrus Kouandjio played some at left tackle in the scrimmage as well.
"He's a young guy who has a lot of potential," Saban said of Kouandjio. "There are some moving parts there. At some point in time in this camp, we need to develop some cohesion in that. ... If we continue to develop a left tackle, Barrett Jones is obviously going to go back and play where he's always played, at one of the guard positions."
As for the ineffectiveness of the running game during scrimmage work, Saban pointed to several factors for an explanation.
"I think it's timing, and defensively we're not bad in stopping the run," Saban said. "That probably contributes to it to some degree. I think a little of it is just consistency."
Center William Vlachos returned from an illness for the scrimmage, but just the same, the UA coaching staff wanted to get a look at what the line might look like if it were to lose Vlachos, its center, for any reason during the season. As a result, Jones saw a bit of action at the position Saturday.
Saban said he believes the offensive line is better and more powerful than it was a year ago, and that "we should be a better running team."
Saban praises quarterbacks
Saban said the quarterbacks were both effective when they had opportunities, but also said evaluating their performances can only be done within the context of how well their surrounding cast played. Although UA provided some limited statistical information from the scrimmage - most notably, a five-catch, 123-yard, three-touchdown day for wide recever Marquise Maze - no passing statistics were made available.
"We're not giving out statistics on how the quarterbacks did, because I don't want to make this a public controversy," Saban said. "This is something that's going to be managed internally, we'll handle it internally with the players. They're doing a great job of handling it."
AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims are competing for the quarterback job, although Saban has said he would not be averse to using both if it would help the team.
Maze improved as return man
Saban said he is looking for the right players to ascend from the competition among return specialists, adding that senior Marquise Maze has improved in that regard. Maze returned punts for the Crimson Tide last season.
"Maze has done a really good job and has improved his ability to handle the ball and judge the ball. His ball security has improved," Saban said. "He's certainly explosive and the kind of guy we need there. DeAndrew White has shown some promise in doing that. Christion Jones has shown some promise in doing that."
Saban said linebacker Dont'a Hightower, who missed only one day of practice due to surgery to repair a hand fracture, participated in about 90 percent of the scrimmage and was removed only for goal line drills. ... Tight end Brian Vogler and linebacker Alex Watkins did not scrimmage. Both are coming off offseason surgery, but both have been participating in practices. ... Saban said cornerback Dee Milliner was the only player who was taken out of the scrimmage for injury reasons, but the injury is not serious. Milliner sustained a chin laceration.
Reach Chase Goodbread at email@example.com or at 205-722-0196.