Alabama football coach Nick Saban expressed understanding when his Crimson Tide didn't have the best spring practice following a lengthy layoff.
He was not as forgiving when asked about his defensive line.
The Crimson Tide held their fifth spring workout Monday and their first since March 21, when the university went on spring break. Alabama will practice again Wednesday and Friday and scrimmage for the first time Saturday.
"It's always a difficult circumstance for players when you have to split spring practice," Saban said in a post-practice news conference. "I thought we had a good offseason and a good first four practices and made a lot of progress, but we probably took a step back today, which is expected with this much time off."
Saban announced that 6-foot-3, 323-pound junior noseguard Darren Lake suffered a pectoral injury at the end of offseason workouts and had to undergo surgery. He will be sidelined for the rest of the spring but is expected to be fine by the start of the season.
Lake had been working behind senior Brandon Ivory, but backing up Ivory now is junior college transfer Jarran Reed.
Alabama also has D.J. Pettway back on its defensive front, as well as promising youngsters such as A'Shawn Robinson, Jonathan Allen and Dee Liner. Saban was asked to comment on "what appears to be some quality depth" on his defensive front, but he quickly bristled at the question.
"We lost two starters there, isn't that right?" Saban said. "What does appears mean? Does that mean you dreamed about it, and that means it's there? We haven't seen a lot of these guys play or take on SEC linemen or anything like that, but it appears?
"I think they've got a long way to go, and I'm not satisfied with the way any of them are playing, if you want to know the truth about it. I don't think last year was one of our best years up front."
Before discussing the defensive front, Saban was asked about his offensive line. Saban said he liked the way the three returning starters -- center Ryan Kelly, right tackle Austin Shepherd and left guard Arie Kouandjio -- were practicing but added that there could be some experimenting between now and the A-Day game on April 19.
In the portion of practice that was open to the media, fifth-year senior Blake Sims, redshirt sophomore Alec Morris and redshirt freshman Cooper Batemen were working as the top three quarterbacks in a pecking order that reflects seniority. At the tailback spot, junior T.J. Yeldon was followed by sophomore Derrick Henry and junior Kenyan Drake.
Saban was quick to praise Henry, who rushed for 100 yards and had a 61-yard scoring reception in the Sugar Bowl.
"He's had a great spring so far," Saban said. "He's performing just like he left off from last season. He's playing with a lot of confidence and understands what to do. He plays fast and is very physical."
Redshirt sophomore kicker Adam Griffith sent five of his nine kickoffs through the end zone, according to Saban, who said the former Calhoun (Ga.) High standout is practicing well.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.