TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It's officially the homestretch for spring football at the University of Alabama. Just two practices remain before the annual A-Day scrimmage on Saturday, and while a few questions have been answered, many more remain.
We know, for instance, that the passing game is on the verge of becoming even more explosive than it was a season ago and the offensive line is coming along better than expected after losing three of five starters. Beyond that, though, very little is clear. The secondary is thin, the linebacking corps has been depleted by injuries and the process of determining a successor to AJ McCarron at quarterback doesn't appear to be any further along.
And then there's the matter of the team's mental makeup. To say that Nick Saban hasn't been pleased with his team's effort this spring would be an understatement. At every turn, he's urged better focus and aggressiveness from his players. He started off the spring lamenting a turbulent offseason and has followed through by challenging his team to do better in all of his public comments.
Consistency, he explained, is a goal this team has yet to achieve.
"It seems like one day one side of the ball plays pretty well, the next day the next side plays pretty well," he said. "I guess that’s got to be the case when you’re practicing against each other. But, fundamentally, you’d like to see everybody do things the right way, show up in the right place and show the ability to make the plays that we need to make."
After all, Saban understands that if Alabama is to repeat as national champions -- again -- it will take those not named AJ McCarron or C.J. Mosley to step up. Who will be the T.J. Yeldon or Amari Cooper of 2013? The Geno Smith or Denzel Devall who breaks through as a rookie to make an impact?
Saban has described early enrollees Derrick Henry and O.J. Howard as promising, and he's called Dalvin Tomlinson a "really good player" who could figure into the starting rotation at defensive end after redshirting last season. For them and others, this week represents the last chance to make a good first impression. What they do over the next three practices will carry them through the rest of the offseason and into fall camp.
"There are some guys that did a lot of good things, but we need to continue to develop more consistency with the young players on our team so that they can have a role and we need more players that can play winning football," Saban said.
In order to keep his players' attention through the final week of practice, Saban has begun throwing new things at them. Instead of playing itself every day for 15 days in a row, the defense has gotten the chance to test-drive Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M offense.
"[Alabama is] starting to look at a lot of things that we may not see from our offense that our opponents will give us next year, which always sort of kind of motivates the players a little bit," Saban said. "When you're at this point in spring, you really need to look for some theme or some purpose for the players to want to go out there and be motivated to get better."
Dress rehearsals aside, the fact that only a few days of spring practice remain should serve as motivation enough for a team with much to prove. The offseason will be long, so better to enter the drought on a high note.