Nick Saban praised the spirit of his 2022 team after its first scrimmage of the spring Saturday, saying the character of the group has been “really good” through the first two full weeks of practice.
“This team doesn’t have any complainers,” he said. “Guys just do what they’re coached to do. They work hard. We don’t have a lot of negative guys on this team. We have some real positive leadership, which I think is always important and hopefully we can build on that, and that will be something that is an asset for this team.”
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Leadership has been a theme of the spring, with junior outside linebacker and returning team captain Will Anderson saying last month that last year’s group lacked “really good, strong leadership.” With Anderson and junior Bryce Young back as key voices, the Tide seems to be off to a better start this season.
“It’s easy to start that way. It’s more difficult to sustain,” Saban said. “And hopefully this team will be able to sustain and that will help us in terms of our development when the fall rolls around.”
Anderson was held out of Saturday’s scrimmage “by design,” Saban said. The session was closed to reporters and the public, but Saban afterward said Young had a “good day” under center.
The bigger questions are around Young, and Saban reiterated Saturday that the offensive line remains in flux with three starters — including center Darrian Dalcourt — out because of injuries. Right tackle Damieon George and center Seth McLaughlin were among the linemen taking part.
“The first offense for the most part moved the ball really well,” Saban said. “Didn’t do great in third-down period, but I think that was more the pressure, the offensive line — we’ve got to continue to improve there.”
Saban said drops were an issue for the offense, too, but noted junior wide receiver Jermaine Burton, a transfer from Georgia, “had a good day” and also offered praise for “little Aaron Anderson,” a speedy 5-foot-9 freshman .
“He had a couple big plays, did a nice job,” Saban said of Anderson. “Really good run-after-catch ability. Took a five-yard play and ran for 35, 40 yards against the first-team defense.”
Junior wide receiver Traeshon Holden has been “pretty consistent all spring,” Saban added, with sophomore Ja’Corey Brooks out for the spring because of an injury. He named JoJo Earle, Christian Leary and Thaiu Jones-Bell as less experienced wide receivers who have gotten “better and better.”
Another transfer in former Georgia Tech running back Jahmyr Gibbs continued a smooth transition to the Tide, receiving first-team reps along with redshirt junior Trey Sanders. Saban said Sanders finished with about 73 yards and Gibbs with about 55, although the school does not release any official statistics from the scrimmage.
“Both those guys did really well,” Saban said. “I do think we’re running the ball a little bit more consistently than at this time a year ago, so hopefully we continue to build on that.”
A few defensive starters did not participate in the scrimmage because of injuries that are not considered serious, Saban said, although he did not name the players. Defensive lineman Justin Eboigbe, linebackers Henry To’o To’o, Jaylen Moody and Dallas Turner, cornerbacks Kool-Aid McKinstry and Malachi Moore, and safety Jordan Battle were among the projected defensive starters on the field. Junior Chris Braswell replaced Anderson and has “done really well,” Saban said.
“I thought the effort was pretty good out there were some really good collisions,” Saban said. “Guys played with toughness.”
Alabama will hold another closed scrimmage next Saturday before its spring game the following Saturday, April 16. In addition to Young, sophomore quarterback Jalen Milroe and freshman quarterback Ty Simpson will be among those receiving attention on A-Day.
“I thought Jalen Milroe has made really consistent strides and he did some good things today,” Saban said. “He actually moved the team. We always give the second (quarterback) an opportunity with the first team, and he moved the team down the field pretty effectively. I think he’s got a better understanding of what we’re doing. He’s getting a little more consistent in his ability to execute.
“Ty is a young guy, a freshman, he’s got a lot of promise and a lot of upside. A smart guy who works at it. Everything’s a little fast for him right now, but we’re not at all disappointed in the progress he’s making.”
The theme extended to the entire team after its first live action of the 2022 season.
“We’re not disappointed in where we are. We’re certainly not where we would like to be, or want to be, or need to be. Because of the circumstance we’re in, we’re getting a lot of young players a lot of opportunity, which I think is really important.
“I just think that we just got to take everybody from wherever they are and try to keep working with them so we continue to improve.”
Mike Rodak is an Alabama beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @mikerodak.