TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama’s preseason camp reached a critical point Saturday with its second and final scrimmage, the last major opportunity for players to make an impression before the attention turns to the regular season on Sept. 2. The looming question of who will take the field at starting quarterback remains, and Nick Saban gave a matter-of-fact description about what he observed.
“They all got to play, they all took snaps,” Saban said. “They all completed some passes. They all made some throws that weren’t as good as they should’ve been. They all got sacked. That’s what I saw.”
Saban offered a bit more commentary on one quarterback outside of the perceived top three of Jalen Milroe, Ty Simpson and Tyler Buchner: true freshman Dylan Lonergan. The four-star product and Snellville, Ga., native has been steadily impressive dating back to spring practice.
And Saban sees the talent.
“He’s done really well,” Saban said. “He’s shown great ability, great potential. I think that the thing that he needs is experience. Everyone says ‘What’s experience?’ What’s your ability to self-assess? I have a better ability to self-assess right now than I did when I was 18 (years old).
“How do you learn how to do that? Through experience. You have experiences, you make mistakes, you mess up and say, ‘Well, I’m never going to do that again.’ That’s how you learn and progress, so he’s a talented guy and certainly a guy that we want to continue to try to develop but he’s done a nice job so far in camp.”
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Saturday brought a few more interesting notes. One of those was that freshman running back Justice Haynes didn’t participate in the scrimmage due to a quad contusion. That allowed for fellow freshman Richard Young to continue getting valuable reps as Alabama builds depth at the position.
At wide receiver, Saban noted that the group is playing faster and with more confidence, and dropped passes have decreased, albeit not completely eliminated. One player of interest is junior college transfer Malik Benson, is progressing well.
“He’s done a nice job,” Saban said. “He’s a lot more confident, playing faster, catching the ball well. I think he’s a guy that can really make a contribution for us this year.”
Key position battle
Another consequential position battle is taking place at left tackle between redshirt freshman Elijah Pritchett and true freshman Kadyn Proctor. Saban said the left side of the offensive line has made “a lot of improvement,” but there has been a recent move to add a little more juice: shifting Tyler Booker from right guard to left guard.
“(Booker) played left guard last year,” Saban said. “He was playing right guard (in spring practice and fall camp), but we moved him back to left guard. I think that’s helped the left tackles who are less experienced, somebody that’s got more experience, more confidence, can make calls, can help them with their communication. That doesn’t mean it’s the way it’s going to be, but that’s one thing that has helped, to some degree, on that side of the line.”
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The process of building consistency and depth for the defense, especially up front, has been important during this camp. A tough critic, Saban acknowledged he’s never satisfied with the defense’s play and cited too many explosive plays allowed early on in the scrimmage. At outside linebacker, Saban referenced the three players with the most experience: Chris Braswell, Dallas Turner and Quandarrius Robinson as players he has confidence in but challenged them to stay focused and eliminate mental errors, which will set a good example for the talented group of young players.
As far as the line specifically, it’s a work in progress.
“We’ve got to be able to play the run a little bit better,” Saban said. “We’ve got to be stronger at the line, we’ve got to strike out of our hips, control blockers, get off blocks better and fit the runs better. We’ve got a lot of things we can improve on. Jaheim Oatis has done a really good job. Tim Keenan has had a really good camp. Justin (Eboigbe) has done a really good job. We need more guys to play with more consistency. Can’t make mistakes in pass-rush lanes. Can’t make mistakes when we’re running stunts and games and pressures. That’s one thing we need to continue to work on cleaning up.”
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Saban detailed the goal of the camp: identifying as many “winning players” as possible. With two weeks until the opening kickoff, the process of whittling that group into the two-deep is both intensifying and reaching a final state.
“I think we made a significant amount of improvement in this camp,” Saban said. “The players have worked hard. It’s been difficult and hot, which I think is a good thing because one of the things that I think goes with discipline, mindset and mental toughness is can you stay focused when things aren’t comfortable for you and they’re difficult? I think that’s something that we need to continue to work on. … We still have a lot of things that we can improve on in just about every position, and we’re going to keep on doing that so that we get these guys ready for the first game.”
(Top photo: Courtesy of Alabama Athletics)