You canâ€™t read much into a scrimmage stat line, but there were some important points from the first scrimmage of the spring. The defense is improving, the quarterbacks are improving, and the team has player leadership. All of these are necessary elements for an improved record in 2008.
Letâ€™s start with the most important point, team leadership. Saban said players on the defensive side of the football are holding one another accountable when they make mistakes. He said players are instructing each other when they make mistakesâ€”the coaches arenâ€™t having to do it. You see peer pressure being applied when someone misses an assignment.
You are seeing players mature into team leadersâ€”players are demanding excellence from themselves and others. This could be a seminal moment in putting a new culture into place. The culture of mediocrity could be heading out the door. You canâ€™t overestimate the importance of players insisting their teammates work hard.
As an observer of athletics, this excites me more than any other single development. When players have the right attitude, youâ€™ll see good results on the field.
The defense also is improving simply because youâ€™ve got players with a second year in the system.
â€œDefensively, I thought we did a really good job executing,â€ Saban said. â€œPlayers had a lot more confidence in what they are doing. It will be interesting to evaluate some of the younger players to see how far they have come relative to how they will be able to contribute next year.â€
Despite mediocre numbers from the scrimmage, the consensus is that the quarterbacks are responding under the tutelage of Jim McElwain.
You are hearing a chorus of praise for McElwain from every position on the offensive side of the ball. You are also hearing praise from the coaches and other insiders, and it is more than feel-good chatter.
I was told John Parker Wilson has progressed more as a quarterback under McElwain than at any time since Mike Shula was his coach.
I had to make sure I understood that assertion, but I heard correctly. Wilson developed nicely under Shula, and Iâ€™m told he regressed under Applewhite. Now he seems to be moving in the right direction. Weâ€™ll have to wait until the fall for a clearer image of Wilsonâ€™s progress, but even Saban was praising the quarterback.
â€œJohn Parker has improved his footwork and improved his accuracy,â€ Saban said. â€œHe is much more consistent right now at keeping his feet underneath him…I think Coach Mac has done a good job emphasizing that.â€