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A-Day reveals first look at Saban's Tide
But Alabama's players say it's just another scrimmage to them

By Josh Cooper
jcooper@decaturdaily.com · 340-2460

TUSCALOOSA — Lionel Mitchell can feel it.

The Alabama cornerback senses the hype around the A-Day Game rising to something like a fever pitch. Some estimates have about 70,000 people attending the Tide's spring scrimmage Saturday at 1:05 p.m. That's a good bit more than the estimated 40,000 who attended last year's game, and Mitchell can point to the reason:

First-year head coach Nick Saban.

"Everybody wants to see what Saban is going to do," Mitchell said. "For us, it's just hard work. It's just a regular scrimmage."

Saturday will be the first glimpse that many will have at the changes Saban has made in his brief time with the Tide.

Saban has closed practices and scrimmages to reporters, meaning most of the analysis has come through Internet message boards from people who have been allowed to watch.

But with all the hype around the first glimpse into Saban's first Alabama team, the players understand that the game has a different meaning to them than the average fan.

"It really is just practice," Tide cornerback Simeon Castille said. "I've grown up around it and I am used to it, but I am like, 'People, it is a practice really.' "

According to Castille, he has received messages on his myspace page from fans, telling him how much they are looking forward to A-Day.

Castille just shrugs them off, sarcastically joking, "OK, can't wait to play in the A-Day game."

Despite growing up with Alabama football around him, the son of former Tide star Jeremiah Castille said that if he was 10 years younger, he would probably be playing video games or watching cartoons.

"When I wasn't in college, I never came to A-Day," Simeon said.

"I wouldn't look too much into A-Day. I know this one has been hyped up to the max."

For Saban, the day can bring a lot of issues to the forefront. Saban, who repeatedly has said that he is not driven by external motivation, looks at the scrimmage as a way once again to get better.

Part of that will revolve around the format, which will have the first-team offense matching up against the second-team defense and the first-team defense facing off against the second-team offense.

While the hype is there, Saban has not referenced it as any kind of motivating factor.

"It will be an opportunity to see which players can go out and perform better on their own," Saban said. "Do they melt down when they make a mistake? Does it take them three plays to shake it off? Who can we depend on here? Who takes care of the ball? There's a lot of things that can be evaluated from spring games."

A-Day at a glance

What: Alabama’s spring football game.

When: Saturday 1:05 p.m., Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.

TV/radio: CSS is scheduled to show the game live, while AM-730, AM-770, AM-1400, FM-93.9 and FM-92.5 are part of the Crimson Tide Sports Network, which is scheduled to carry the game on radio.

Who to watch: Brian Motley. Position changes are one of the fun parts of spring practice, and Motley’s switch from offensive line to defensive tackle has provided huge dividends in Alabama’s two scrimmages. Motley had 11 tackles in the Tide’s first scrimmage April 6.

Linebackers Keith Saunders and Ezekial Knight. Both have shifted to outside linebacker as part of new coach Nick Saban’s 3-4 scheme. Saban did the same with the Dolphins’ Jason Taylor and turned him into last season’s NFL defensive player of the year.

Quarterback John Parker Wilson. He has been inconsistent this spring in the two scrimmages, completing 10 of 31 and 12 of 27 passes. Wilson says he is in better shape, and we keep hearing that he is improved. Saturday will be a good indicator.

Saban. His presence has provided quite a buzz heading into this year’s spring game. Longtime program insiders say they have never seen this type of hype around a practice. Either way, Saban will get his first unofficial victory at Alabama on Saturday.

- Josh Cooper

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