"The effort is there, the way you want to see it," senior offensive lineman Barrett Jones said. "A commitment to working hard, which is maybe not what we had in 2010. We just need to keep working on communication to mesh as a unit." Alabama will be very good in 2012. Of that, there is no doubt. How good? "I don’t know," said coach Nick Saban, an answer that is disappointing to a lot of Crimson Tide fans who are certain he knows the answer, even if he won’t reveal it. "I think it’s kind of up to this team, I think it’s kind of up to a lot of players on this team, a lot of players who will have opportunities that haven’t played much before. "We certainly don’t have the maturity that we had as a team a year ago or that we had three years ago, but there are certainly enough players on this team that we can develop into a pretty good team."
Saban gave, perhaps, his longest answer of the entire post-game press conference when prompted about Mandell, who has battled inconsistency throughout his Alabama career. "He already had gotten one of the most improved player awards before he even punted today," Saban said, referencing the Bart Starr Most Improved Player award Mandell shared with safety Vinnie Sunseri, tight end Brian Vogler and defensive end Ed Stinson. "He's really punted better all spring. We always felt like Cody really had the ability to do it, it was just consistency in whether it was drop or long steps or whatever. He has a little more maturity about duplicating what he does over and over again."
Alabama saw several of its defensive stars walk away after the Crimson Tide’s BCS National Championship run. That’s no indication, apparently, of the unit slipping into oblivion. By the end of Saturday’s spring game in front of an announced crowed of 78,526, the Tide’s defense had intercepted three of quarterback AJ McCarron’s passes. Adrian Hubbard accounted for three sacks. Safety Vinnie Sunseri created and returned a fumble 21 yards for a touchdown. So while McCarron completed 29 of 42 passes for 304 passing yards and two touchdowns, the defense’s prowess was on display. And of course the defense had an advantage—McCarron, speaking to al.com, pointed out that "we ran the same play one time on one drive nine times."
"Nobody ever has a bad spring, nobody has a bad spring game, and we didn't have one, either," Saban said. "We focus on guys executing and making progress and doing a good job. This was a final exam for some of the players relative to spring practice. How have they improved and what can they do to help this team? "Being a coach in a college where you have seniors graduate every year is a challenge because you have to develop new leadership, new communication. But we are pleased with the spring that we had. Not satisfied; just pleased."
The Alabama assembly line that has been cranking out running backs who compete for Heisman Trophies and draw first-round attention in NFL drafts unveiled a new high-performance model Saturday. The name is T.J. Yeldon. He appears to run on eight cylinders, but it looks as if he might get very good mileage. The 6-foot-2, 216-pound early enrollee from Daphne High School was the runaway star of Alabama's A-Day game in front of a crowd of 78,526 at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Yeldon ran 16 times for a game-high 88 yards and caught five passes for a game-high 91 yards and one touchdown, a tackling-breaking 50-yarder. He won the Dixie Howell Most Valuable Player of the Game Award and led the White team - the first-team defense and second-team offense - to a 24-15 victory over the Crimson team.
Yeldon won the Dixie Howell Most Valuable Player of the Game Award. Presumed starter Eddie Lacy sat out the spring while recovering from surgery to repair a turf toe injury. "T.J. did a good job in all the scrimmages. He made the difference for his team," Tide coach Nick Saban said. "He made a lot of good plays today and had a lot of production. "I think that's important for us because we needed someone like that. He has a really good opportunity. Eddie will hopefully be able to come back, Jalston (Fowler) can do certain things, Dee Hart can do certain things. T.J. is one of those guys who can do everything."
"I thought he looked a little rusty in the beginning, but definitely played better in the third quarter," said Alabama coach Nick Saban, who stressed that Sims still wasn't 100 percent. "He made some big plays, and that's good. "We're hoping that he'll be able to heal up now, be able to give him the rest that he needs from throwing the ball ... and he'll make the progress in the future that he needs to continue to improve."
At 4:14, after the White squad had defeated the Crimson team 24-15 (thus making me 0-1 in my career as an Alabama "coach"), the entire team once again took a knee in the locker room. Saban was anchored in the middle of this massive huddle. "Nothing we accomplished in the past will help us in the future," Saban said, his voice rising. "We've got a chance to be a really, really good football team, but ..." And then Saban, the reigning national championship coach, launched into a speech about the character it takes to win a single play and a single game. Minutes later, Saban walked up a flight of stairs and addressed a horde of media. It wasn't a necessarily pretty or exciting spring game, but, naturally, that was by design. "You want us just to e-mail Michigan what we're doing?" Saban said to reporter who asked about what Alabama did differently on offense on Saturday from last season. "If I saw anything new out there, I would have been upset."
After the White team took the lead in the third quarter, the Crimson scored on the final play. Running back Dee Hart ran for 23 yards — his longest carry of the game. On the next play, Hart took a handoff from McCarron, turned and flipped the ball back to the quarterback, who hit Kenny Bell with a 47-yard touchdown pass. "Me and AJ hook up on a lot of deep stuff," said Bell, who finished with five catches for 86 yards. "We’ve been together three years so he knows my speed. He knows how to put the ball out there."
With just seconds left on the clock, sophomore safety Vinnie Sunseri had a clear path to the end zone for his second touchdown of the game after his interception of quarterback AJ McCarron. Sunseri, though, changed his direction in dramatic fashion near the 5-yard line, swerved to the middle of the field and took a knee. Sunseri, who scored earlier in the quarter on a 21-yard fumble recovery, admitted that it wasn't his decision. It was Nick Saban's. "He gave AJ too much credit that he could actually tackle me," Sunseri said. "He doesn't realize he wears that black jersey for a reason."
He also indicated some fashion preferences, or rather non-preferences, and without giving away any tips before the Saban Collection hits the runway, don't expect to see much in the way of baggy pants or earrings. It wasn't a dictum, just a strong suggestion that "someone else might play" ahead of the non-conformist, a powerful motivating tool that a coach with a loaded roster has at his disposal. Without that uniform commitment to excellence, Saban said, "you can't have team chemistry. Because high achievers hate mediocre people and mediocre people hate high achievers."
While Saturday’s game didn’t show the fans much, McCarron said he is excited about the potential for the Tide’s offense in 2012. "We’re opening it up," he said. "We’re spreading it out and letting it fly. We’re still running the ball, we’re still the old Alabama, but we’ve got some new plays and any time you run new plays, it’s fun to experience. We’ve got to take these next couple of months and continue to progress and make this offense the best it can be."
Senior first baseman Cassie Reilly-Boccia broke a tie ballgame in the bottom of the seventh inning with a two-run, walk-off home run send No. 2 Alabama to a 7-5 victory over South Carolina in front of a school-record crowd of 3,940 fans at Rhoads Stadium. Alabama improved to 39-2 overall and 16-2 in Southeastern Conference play. South Carolina fell to 23-22 overall and 3-15 in league action. Reilly-Boccia hit her eighth home run on the year, and did it in dramatic fashion. After Jazlyn Lunceford drew a walk, Reilly-Boccia lined a 1-1 shot over the wall in right-center to end the game.