TUSCALOOSA _ As far as starting points go, University of Alabama coach Nick Saban said Friday was a good one with few surprises.
For the most part, the experienced players played like veterans and the inexperienced ones looked like newcomers when the defending national champions held their first spring scrimmage at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
"There were times when both first units really looked good," Saban said, later adding: "I saw players do some good things, and I saw some bad."
Among the standouts:
- Saban was complimentary of quarterbacks Greg McElroy and A.J. McCarron, who both worked with the first unit. McElroy completed 14 of 22 passes for 235 yards and one touchdown, and McCarron went 21-for-28 for 229 yards, three touchdowns, and set up the scrimmage-winning field goal.
- On special teams, true freshman Cade Foster hit field goals from 42 and 38 yards, but missed from 39 and Saban said he was short on a 56-yard attempt by "about a foot." Offensive lineman Taylor Pharr was among those punting and Saban said "probably has a stronger leg than anybody we've had around here."
But the scrimmage spotlight was clearly on the defense, which has to find at least eight new starters and replace nearly everyone in the secondary.
Despite coming off knee surgery and a calf injury sustained during the offseason conditioning program, Dont'a Hightower wasn't limited and finished with three tackles, a pass broken up and a sack.
However, Nico Johnson sustained a sprained knee and might miss numerous practices.
"I was pleased with the way the first defense played," Saban said. "We don't have the same kind of depth, and we have to get more players playing consistently on the defensive field after that first group. Marcell Dareus had a really good day. I think he had four sacks and maybe eight tackles."
Meanwhile, B.J. Scott may have moved a step closer toward eventually landing a starting job at cornerback. He had six tackles and broke up two passes, while Dre Kirkpatrick had four tackles, broke up a pass and notched a sack.
"I thought B.J. Scott and Dre did a pretty decent job with the first group," Saban said. "We have to get more consistent play after that.
"Mark (Barron) was pretty good out there. Rod Woodson is a young player who probably needs to develop, so does Robert Lester."
The secondary became an even bigger concern when recruit Dequan Menzie, a junior-college standout from Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Wesson, Miss., underwent surgery Thursday to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon, sustained while playing basketball. He'll be out four-to-six months and will likely redshirt next season.
Combined with Robby Green's status in doubt, and likely unresolved until the summer, the spring has to be considered crucial for the young group.
"Last spring I was just moving over and this spring I feel a lot more confident, knowing everything," Scott said earlier this week. "I still have a lot to learn. The toughest thing was just learning the defense. It's all football."
For what the secondary lacks in experience, there's no shortage of talent. Kirkpatrick was a five-star recruit out of Gadsden City and Scott a five-star athlete from Prichard. Barron, a third-team All-American last season, was four-star from St. Paul's in Mobile and Lester a four-star from Foley.
Also in from the latest signing class, DeMarcus Milliner was a five-star from Millbrook and John Fulton, whom the coaches are very high on, a four-star from Manning, S.C. Still to arrive are free safety Nick Perry, Jarrick Williams, Deion Belue and Blake Sims, who could still play offense or defense.
"You really can't make a mistake," said Scott, "Everyone has to know what they're doing. We have a reputation of playing sound defense, hard-nosed defense here at Alabama. Coach Saban is real critical about everything."
Alabama will take the weekend off, with players allowed to travel home for Easter. The Tide will get back into its Monday-Wednesday-Friday-Saturday routine the final two weeks, with A-Day scheduled for April 17.
STATISTICS (from Alabama sports information):
PASSING LEADERS Greg McElroy - 14 for 22, 235 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT A.J. McCarron - 21 for 28, 229 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INT
SCORING Touchdowns - 6 (Maze 22-yard pass from McElroy; M. Williams 11-yard TD pass from McCarron; Richardson 18-yard run; K. Norwood 15-yard pass from McCarron; John Baites 5-yard pass from McCarron; Richardson 21-yard run)