TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It was brutally hot. Then there was a downpour. It was followed by a break due to lightning, which was handled like a halftime, complete with everyone huddling for a spell in the Bryant-Denny Stadium locker room.
It sort of sounds like Alabama’s offense right now, with a little bit of everything, yet everyone is unsure about what to expect.
Except for Nick Saban saying, “I think there was a lot of improvement from Scrimmage 1 to Scrimmage 2,” there’s not a lot of concrete conclusions to be made from the Crimson Tide’s final dress rehearsal for the looming season. The coach seemed content with the progress, but not satisfied, which for him is normal.
It also wasn’t like a week ago, when it was easy to discern that the defense played well and special teams did not.
A good example was what Saban volunteered about the offense during his press conference Saturday.
“One of the things that was a little discouraging today, we moved the ball early in the scrimmage a couple times offensively, stalled in the red area, turned the ball over in the red area,” he said. “Those are not the kind of things … we have to be able to finish drives. Score points.”
That doesn’t mean the offense played poorly, more that it’s still coming together. There was good and bad on both sides of the ball as things balanced out.
Alabama treats the second scrimmage like it’s a game with its approach, so the clock is running and players swapped in and out just like they will in two weeks when the Crimson Tide open the regular season against Florida State in Atlanta on Sept. 2.
Coaches were on the headsets, with those who will be in the press box doing what they’ll be doing during games. Like his predecessors, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll was on the sideline, so he can better communicate with the players, especially the quarterbacks, and Saban liked both the approach and what he heard.
“We were very decisive about what we were doing,” he said. “I think we play better tempo-wise offensively when we go fast, which may be a good thing for us. We did both today. The organization and the communication was good. We didn’t have issues, didn’t have problems. We didn’t have delay of game or substitution penalties, any of those issues.”
Yet the dry run was anything but that, when the suddenly-darkened skies gave sort of a preview to the coming eclipse Monday. Alabama kept working even though it must have looked like being in a high-powered car wash, and got in about 60 plays before everything came to a halt. Overall, the scrimmage featured roughly 125 plays and lasted just more than 2 hours.
No stats were provided, but they would have been meaningless without context anyway, especially considering the conditions.
Yet there were a couple of notable things from Saban’s press conference that indicate he likes where this team is, and not just with special teams playing better.
He didn’t talk about if Alabama has the kind of playmakers it needs, but how many. More players played with confidence and showed they’re ready to contribute. Moreover, the coaching staff appears to have very few decisions regarding personnel.
Saban didn’t provide updates on the competition on the offensive line and secondary, but his answer about the backup freshmen quarterbacks gave a glimpse to how things are progressing:
“I think Tua [Tagovailoa] has really progressed nicely,” Saban said. “He had a good day today. Probably had a few more opportunities, made a couple of explosive plays. He’s making very good progress. Mac [Jones] is doing the same.
“But we have to sort of say ‘OK, who are we going to get ready to play here?’ We have the first quarterback, Jalen [Hurts], then we have a guy that we have ready to play as a backup. Then we have to bring Mac along the best we can. He’s made good progress. He had some opportunities today and didn’t do a bad job.”
Otherwise, the closest thing to news was revealing that junior running back Bo Scarbrough has been sick, sophomore running back Josh Jacobs (hamstring) is day to day and senior walk-on wide receiver Donnie Lee Jr. suffered a knee injury.
It’s been that kind of camp for Alabama, and with the first day of classes set for Wednesday, there are no gaping questions about this team. There have been no catastrophic setbacks, the coaches have done everything they could about the depth, and no one is getting a crash course on a new position to fill a need.
Barring something extreme happening over the next few days (although that always remains a possibility when you’re talking about college kids and students back on campus) the coaches will only need to make final tweaks before everyone turns their attention to the Seminoles.
It’s been a good camp, with good scrimmages and everyone who is being counted on, including Hurts, on course. The process continues.
“I think Jalen has developed more confidence as a passer,” Saban said of the sophomore. “I think his ability to scramble is still a tremendous asset for him. I think he’s learned how to use that a little bit better and be an effective passer. I think systematically we’re better in that regard.
“I think that when people look at passing efficiency, it’s about 11 people, not about one, not just about the quarterback. You have to protect, you have to run routes the right way. There’s a lot of chemistry between the route runners and the quarterback, the timing, decision making, accuracy, a lot of things that involve a lot of people. Jalen has certainly improved in that regard. I think our entire teams needs to improve relative to that as well.”
Saban likes to say the team is a bus, and he’s just the driver. It’s about time for everyone to get on board for the 2017 season.