TUSCALOOSA _ University of Alabama fans were hoping to hear two words in particular from Coach Nick Saban on Saturday after the second and final preseason scrimmage at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Sure enough, it wasn't long before he said both "better" and "improved" during his brief press conference just two weeks away from the season opener against San Jose State on Sept. 4.
"I think the number one thing that we wanted to get from scrimmage one to scrimmage two was to improve as a team," he said. "I think we made some improvement. I'm certainly not disappointed in the improvement that we made as a team, but at the same time we're not satisfied with where we'd like to be.
"We need to focus on continuing that improvement. I still think that one of the key words for this team, some of the young players especially on defense and special teams (especially) is what does it mean to mature."
Whereas last week the pass-oriented situational scrimmage resulted in more than 700 yards, this time coaches first ran approximately 50 plays in a game-time setting with a running clock, and had special-team units perform accordingly.
While that meant more running plays (56 during the roughly 115-play day) to measure the progress on both sides, the defense yielded far fewer explosive gains and showed progress.
"We didn't throw as much today, which was really by design," Saban said.
Senior Greg McElroy handled the first-team unit two-thirds of the time, with redshirt freshman A.J. McCarron also getting reps with the likely starters. McElroy was 10-of-18 for 134 yards with a touchdown pass and two interceptions - one on a tipped ball and the other a desperation heave.
"He played very well today," Saban said.
McCarron was 11-for-23, 110 yards and one touchdown, while true freshman Phillip Sims went 11-for-18 and 132 yards.
Redshirt freshman Eddie Lacy led the Crimson Tide running backs with 61 yards on 15 carries while junior Demetrius Goode had the lone rushing touchdown. Junior Mark Ingram had with 46 yards on 12 carries.
Defensively, sophomore linebacker Dont'a Hightower topped the Tide with eight tackles, two for loss, a sack and a pass breakup. Junior safety Mark Barron had five tackles and broke up a pass while sophomores Dre Kirkpatrick and Robert Lester were credited with the interceptions.
The Tide apparently didn't sustain any major injuries. Junior nose tackle Josh Chapman sustained a thigh bruise and sophomore running back Trent Richardson a bruised shoulder which may keep them out of a practice or two next week after the team takes Sunday and Monday off.
Multi-purpose player Blake Sims (foot) and freshman cornerback DeMarcus Milliner (ankle) were both unable to participate, while sophomore defensive end Undra Billingsley (ankle) and senior tight end Preston Dial (unknown) suited up but didn't appear to be doing much during individual drills.
In Dial's place, junior Brad Smelley had five catches for 71 yards and a touchdown.
"I think our team needs rest," Saban said. "This is always kind of the way we've done it, we don't give them a lot of days off, we've had one day off since we started camp, but we do that to accumulate two days rest for them at this time which I think does a lot more good for them in terms of recovery."
One player who appears to have passed an important test was junior cornerback DeQuan Menzie, who is coming off an Achilles tear and also sustained a minor hamstring injury last week. Working primarily with the first-unit, he made it through the scrimmage following three days of practice without incident. Consequently, he should be ready for the season opener.
As for special teams, the competition at kicker and punter appears to be mirroring each other with one more consistent and the other making bigger kicks.
"They did a nice job today," Saban said.
The only missed field goal was a 52-yard attempt by true freshman Cade Foster, but he also easily cleared the uprights from the same distance. Foster was 3-for-4 while sophomore Jeremy Shelley was 4-for-4, all within 36 yards.
At punter, true freshman Cody Mandell has been more consistent, but true freshman Jay Williams has shown more flashes.
FALL SCRIMMAGE #2
*Statistics include 11-on-11, situational drills, red area, goalline, 2-minute
Greg McElroy - 10 for 18, 134 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT
A.J. McCarron - 11 for 23, 110 yards, 1 TDs, 0 INT
Phillip Sims - 11 for 18, 132 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT
Eddie Lacy - 15 rush, 61 yards, 0 TD
Mark Ingram - 12 rush, 46 yards, 0 TD
Corey Grant - 11 rush, 41 yards, 0 TD
Demetrius Goode - 12 rush, 35 yards, 1 TD
Trent Richardson - 6 rush, 20 yards, 0 TD
Brad Smelley - 5 rec., 71 yards, 1 TD
Julio Jones - 4 rec., 56 yards, 0 TD
Kevin Norwood - 3 rec., 54 yards, 1 TD
Brandon Gibson - 2 rec., 48 yards
Kenny Bell - 3 rec., 30 yards
Dont'a Hightower - 8 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack, 1 PBU
Mark Barron - 5 tackles, 1 PBU
Courtney Upshaw - 4 tackles, 1 sacks, 2 PBU
Marcell Dareus - 4 tackles
Tana Patrick - 4 tackles, 1 PBU
Robert Lester - 4 tackles, 1 INT, 1 PBU
C.J. Mosley - 4 tackles
Nico Johnson - 4 tackles, 1 PBU
Dre Kirkpatrick - 3 tackles, 1 INT
Rushing Touchdowns (1): Demetrius Goode - 1 (1 yard)
Receiving Touchdowns (3): Trent Richardson - 1 (20 yards); Brad Smelley - 1 (18 yards); Kevin Norwood - 1 (18 yards)
Field Goals (7):
Jeremy Shelley - 4-4 - Made: 29, 32, 36, 21
Cade Foster - 3-4 - Made: 28, 52, 32. Missed 52