Alabama focuses on getting young players experience in first scrimmage

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DeVonta Smith saw snaps on both offense and defense in Alabama’s first scrimmage.

James Ogletree

Alabama football’s first of three spring scrimmages offered every player, regardless of age or experience, the chance to identify areas in which they can improve, said coach Nick Saban.

“The ultimate goal for every player, every unit, our team, is for everybody – whether you’re first team, second team, third team, whatever you are – to do an assessment of ‘Where am I, and what can I do to get better?’” Saban said. “I think that starts with some of the experience that they got today, but it also carries over to when we watch the film.”

With as badly as the injury bug has bitten the team thus far, Saban said the scrimmage gave younger players more playing time than they would have gotten in years past.

That led to some rookie mistakes on Saturday afternoon, but Saban said there’s no cause for alarm. There’s still plenty of time to shore up those issues, and he was pleased with other aspects of the team’s play.

“I thought the hitting was good, I thought the effort was good, I thought the players tried to communicate and execute,” Saban said. “I think several players made plays, and like you’d expect in a first scrimmage, there were probably other plays that we could’ve made that we wish we had back.”

Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa participated more in practice than he had been all week, but was limited during the scrimmage. He only played 15 to 20 snaps, according to Saban, ceding some time to Mac Jones.

Saban said Jalen Hurts and Mac Jones both played well. Hurts, he said, started slow, but made some “really good plays” as the scrimmage went on.

The wide receiver group was also thinner than usual due to Jerry Jeudy’s recovery from his surgery and DeVonta Smith spending some time in the secondary. Smith’s practicing with the defensive backs this spring is not part of any long-term position switch. It’s just to prepare him in case the team encounters an emergency in the fall and needs him to step in.

Saban said the team hopes to have cornerback Trevon Diggs back at practice by next week, but is less optimistic about Jeudy’s chances of returning that soon.

Kicker Joseph Bulovas had a nice day, making four of five field goals – which weren’t chip shots, according to Saban – in wet and windy conditions.

Evaluating the linemen’s play immediately after a game can be tough, Saban said, but he added that the offensive line allowed too much pressure on the quarterback while paving the way for a fairly consistent running game.

“I think moving some guys around on the OL probably helps us long-term, and maybe doesn’t necessarily help us play the best today,” Saban said.

Alex Leatherwood, usually a left tackle, played some right tackle, and Jedrick Wills, usually a right tackle, got some experience at right guard. Lester Cotton started every game at right guard last year, but has also started at left guard before, and coaches are ensuring that he can still play both sides.

The defensive line is experiencing similar shuffling. Saban said Quinnen Williams, as well as other young players, are being evaluated at nose tackle and defensive end to see where they fit best.

“We’re looking for who can play on that side and who can help us and where we can find some depth, because that is a bit of an issue right now,” Saban said.

The team will return to practice on Monday, deviating from its normal Tuesday-Thursday practice schedule, and will hold another scrimmage on Saturday.