Saban is preaching mental toughness and maturity to his players. "They cannot make errors, whether it's illegal procedure in a two-minute drive that kills you, or a defensive player jumping offsides in a two-minute that gives them a first down and gives them more opportunities,” he said. "Those are the kinds of things that we're trying to zero in on right now, as well as working on some of our opponents who create problems that we don't basically see in practice.”
Starting running back Eddie Lacy said Alabama committed a lot of mental errors in the first scrimmage, and the coaches have stressed cleaning up those problems. "Everybody's coming out and trying to make less of those mistakes than they made in the first one," he said. "So it's more of coming for, not redeeming, but just to show that they can do everything they're supposed to." Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron said that scrimmages present a different sort of problem for the Tide offense. During practice, the players are going over and over plays and fundamentals constantly. That's not always so during a scrimmage, which provides a different chance to learn. "Last scrimmage, it took us a minute to get into a rhythm sometimes, just because it's not game-like, really," he said. "The game seems to be a lot faster when you're out there. This is kind of slow process, going through each play.
Starting jobs may not be on the line for young Alabama football players in Saturday’s scrimmage at Bryant-Denny Stadium, but roles with the 2012 Crimson Tide certainly are. “That’s really what they tell us: ‘This is your last chance to prove to us before we make a decision on who we’re going to go with in the season,’” senior linebacker Nico Johnson said this week. “I think it’s crunch time not just for the freshmen, (but for) everybody.” Tide head coach Nick Saban said the focus this week has been on improvement — individually and collectively. The coach said this is traditionally the toughest week of camp. But coaches are looking at how players compete and concentrate despite fatigue, stress, heat and confusion. “You control how you think,” Saban said.
“I am really looking forward to Saturday’s scrimmage,” said sophomore defensive back Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. “I want to do better than I did in the first scrimmage and just come out and play hard. During practice, it is more mental, and in the scrimmage it’s more physical and game-like.” Sophomore linebacker Xzavier Dickson said there’s been a lot of competition in practice. “Everyone is getting better day-by-day,” Dickson said. “A lot of guys are competing, trying to fight, compete for a job. We are just going hard every day and taking it one day at a time.”
Players and coaches agree, Jones is not your ordinary football player. It goes beyond playing the violin and going on missionary trips during spring break. Even on the football field, there's something special about him. "He can almost beat you before you move," said senior Jesse Williams, who practiced against Jones at tackle when he was at defensive end last season, and now faces him at center from his new position of nose guard. "I think he's following me. It's not too bad. He's a nice guy. We both compete. We both try to do the same thing -- help the team." That attitude has been contagious. Right tackle D.J. Fluker said Jones simply did what was best for the team by sliding inside to accommodate left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio. "That says a lot about his character," Fluker said. "He took on full responsibility for it. That takes a lot of pride to give up a spot at left tackle to play center."
"Their offensive line maybe as good an offensive line I've coached against -- ever," Hoke said in a recent AnnArbor.com article. "They're formidable." A reporter passed that along to Alabama right tackle D.J. Fluker after Thursday's practice. He wasn't ready to say that Hoke was right. 'That’s great for him to say that, but right now we’re just more focused on our offense, trying to develop as a team, trying to get that gel, that mold, so we can become that unit," Fluker said. "So that’s the main thing we’d really like to focus on, as far as this season and this year."
When he signed Fluker out of Foley High in 2009, Saban knew he had landed one of the top offensive line prospects in the country. He admitted Thursday that he didn’t expect to have the kind of leader Fluker had become. Call it a pleasant surprise. A big one. “He's very confident in what he's doing now,” said Saban, who also compared Fluker to Flozell Adams, a similarly large offensive tackle who played under Saban at Michigan State and went on to a decorated NFL career. “He's much more outgoing in terms of his willingness to affect other people. He has really affected our offense in a positive way not only with his performance but his enthusiasm, attention to detail and intensity; the way he goes about things and demands that people do it the same way.”
Malcolm Faciane, who was redshirted as a freshman last season, is becoming hard not to notice in as a 6-foot-5, 259-pound backup tight end. Brent Callaway, one of the stars of the 2011 signing class, has been going largely unnoticed as an H-back. Jalston Fowler spent the one period that the news media was allowed to observe with the running backs.
Clinton-Dix was asked what it's like working directly with coach Nick Saban in the secondary. "To be honest, it’s a blessing to be with him, the head coaching," Clinton-Dix said. "He’s coaching you up, just being out there with him and having him coach me up, it’s a very good thing."
"My message to them was that football ends. You're going to come to a time where there is no more spring practice, no more hitting, it's just going to be you," Herren said. "Be a pro at being you before you become a pro at anything else. I lost myself along the way of chasing a dream like that. I neglected my well-being."
In a nutshell This is a better team that won’t win as many games. To look at the Wolverines’ personnel issues ignores the biggest reason why you’ll see improvement: Michigan is now familiar with Hoke, this staff and all that entails, and that fact alone is going to lead to a more consistent level of play on offense, defense and special teams – yes, even special teams. The offense, headlined by Robinson, is the only one in the Big Ten capable of scoring at will – at any point on the field, at any time, in one play. With Mattison running the show, the defense should be no worse than it was a year ago. I’m confident that Hoke will do whatever it takes to improve his team’s play on special teams. But before moving to this schedule, a few concerns. One is a reworked offensive line. It’s going be extremely difficult for U.M. to replace Molk in the middle; not impossible, but you can already see how shifting Barnum and Schofield has led to some depth issues along the interior.
Pipkins plays on Michigan's defensive line, a position that has been decimated by turnover. It lost strong-side end Ryan Van Bergen, as well as tackles Mike Martin and Will Heininger. This year's projected lineup features four players who combine for one career start at their current positions. Michigan capably addressed Van Bergen's exit by sliding weak-side end Craig Roh to the strong side. The senior is a fourth-year starter, which allays concerns about his move. Inside, though, Michigan is replacing Martin -- an All-Big Ten performer and third-round draft pick of the Tennessee Titans -- and Heininger with the underwhelming Will Campbell and underweight Jibreel Black. Black has yet to play a down at tackle. Campbell has yet to play his downs consistently. That's where Pipkins is expected to step in.