Practice is practice. It’s supposed to be interrupted, broken down and corrected in the moment. A scrimmage, though, is meant to simulate game-like experiences. It’s much different and should be treated as such.
When under the big lights, even if there’s no real opponent, those in charge must trust they’ve done enough and stay on the sidelines.
“Good coaches are trying to reinforce players in practice every day,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “They’re telling them, ‘You did this well’ or ‘You need to do it this way’ or ‘You made a mental error’ or ‘You did a good job’ or whatever. So you’re trying to reinforce guys on every play. Sometimes players are kind of depending on that reinforcement all the time in practice. But in a game, there’s no coach out there.”
And that’s a fact Saban wants his staff and players to remember Saturday when Alabama conducts its second spring scrimmage in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Coaches need to back off, so players can learn how to step up on their own. But Saban knows from experience that’s easier said than done. He used to be one of those assistant coaches constantly in a player’s ear.
From 1991-94, Saban worked under Bill Belichick as the Cleveland Browns’ defensive coordinator and learned the hard way how to handle scrimmages.
“Belichick would chew my butt out, man, and he’d say, ‘Let the players play,’” Saban said. “I was like, ‘wow, I’ve never had my butt chewed out for coaching, teaching.’ But I have to say the same thing sometimes to our coaches now.”
Alabama has seven new assistants, including the return of Steve Sarkisian as offensive coordinator and the promotion of Pete Golding to defensive coordinator. The five others are Charles Kelly (safeties), Brian Baker (defensive line), Sal Sunseri (outside linebackers), Kyle Flood (offensive line) and Holmon Wiggins (wide receivers).
Last week, the Crimson Tide had its first scrimmage, and Saban was happy with the offense but not so much with the defense. He’d like to see that side of the ball improve this time around.
Saturday will be Alabama’s last scrimmage. There are then two more practices before the A-Day game on April 13 at 1 p.m. in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Then, Alabama’s 2019 season opener isn’t until Aug. 31 against Duke in Atlanta at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“In the game, they have to know what to do. They have to know how to do it,” Saban said. “They can’t depend on somebody else to make the call for them. They can’t depend on somebody else to recognize things for them. … That’s the next step of guys being ready to contribute and play.”
Reach Terrin Waack at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0229.