TUSCALOOSA | University of Alabama coach Nick Saban had high praise for a handful of players following the Crimson Tide's opening scrimmage of the spring Saturday, but the overall message from the seventh-year coach was that not enough members of the entire roster are playing at the necessary level.
"We're not where we'd love to be or would like to be. We've got a lot of work to do. We've got a lot of work to do with a lot of guys. It all starts with guys being able to sustain the kind of mental intensity you need to have to be a good football player, especially when things get a little tough, it gets a little tough, you get a little bit tired," Saban said. "We just don't have the mental toughness we need from enough guys to sustain things, pay attention to detail, and do the little things right so we can execute better as a team."
Most of those consistency concerns appear to be on the defensive side of the ball. Saban praised quarterback AJ McCarron and several skill-position players on offense.
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"Defensively, we had some guys play well, but it's kind of hit and miss right now. We don't have enough guys doing the right things the right way all the time," Saban said.
Saban indicated that some players may not have returned from spring break in ideal condition, a factor which has played a role in some of the struggles he has witnessed on the practice field.
Wide receiver DeAndrew White is competing under non-contact status as he recovers from a knee injury, but the Texas native nevertheless led all receivers Saturday with seven receptions for 132 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Veteran quarterback AJ McCarron was on the passing end of much of that productivity, throwing for 291 yards and four scores for the day.
Saban said three receivers who sustained significant injuries last season -- White, Kenny Bell and freshman Chris Black -- are each making progress at their own pace.
"DeAndrew White is doing really well. (He) did a really good job, made some big plays today, actually," Saban said. "Kenny (Bell has) probably the guy that has been the slowest coming back, but actually is starting to look like the Kenny of old at times. Chris Black has been fine the whole time.
"I think psychologically all these guys still have to sort of get over the fact that, 'I was hurt.' I think that just takes a lot of repetitions.
As for special teams, Saban said he would have liked to have seen more field goal attempts in the first scrimmage. He indicated the UA coaching staff will probably look to place a heavier emphasis on special teams over the second half of spring drills.
"The (field goal) protection wasn't as good as it needed to be. But we have to continue to work on all those things. We punted the ball well, that part of it was pretty good," Saban said. " Kickoff coverage and kickoff return was pretty good. We've got a ways to go in terms of field goal and punt return and some of those things, but we haven't worked on some of those things enough, either, to be honest, especially at this point in the spring."
Another option for next week's scrimmage, Saban said, would be to give some of the quarterbacks who played less on Saturday more of a chance. Saturday, Saban said reserve Blake Sims played about a third of the snaps with the first offense. He responded well, completing 13 of 19 passes.
Saban was asked specifically about running back Derrick Henry (12 carries, 52 yards) and tight end O.J. Howard, two of the more highly-regarded incoming freshmen who enrolled in January.
"They're doing fine. Derrick Henry, obviously, is a guy that has flashed at times of being a big, fast, strong guy. He made a few plays today, he certainly is a guy who can help us in some areas of our team next year," Saban said. "I think O.J. Howard is very athletic and a very good pass receiver, but needs to work on blocking and that type of thing, which he didn't do much of in high school."
Alabama resumes practice Monday at 3:30 p.m. UA's next scrimmage (closed to public) will be next Saturday afternoon at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Reach Chase Goodbread at email@example.com or at 205-722-0196.
AJ McCarron: 15 for 28, 291 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT
Blake Sims: 13 for 19, 129 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Kenyan Drake: 11 for 85, TD
T.J. Yeldon: 16 for 63
Derrick Henry: 12 for 52
DeAndrew White 7 for 132, 2 TDs
Amari Cooper 3 for 120, 1 TD
Tana Patrick - 6 tackles
Deion Belue 0 5 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 PBU
DePriest - 4 tackles, sack, 2 INTs
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix - 4 tackles, INT