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More than ready to scrimmage

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It starts with Bryant-Denny Stadium. That will be the first clue that Saturday is different.

The next clue will be the sound. After waiting for what seems like forever -- an interminable few months before spring practice could begin, a couple more days before they could wear pads and make contact, and finally another two weeks until their first scrimmage -- Alabama's football players will have a chance to get excited about something. For the first time in a long time, they'll get to hear what real football sounds like.

"It just lets us free," said Alabama defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan. "We're so used to just wrapping up and thud. Now we can actually release some tension or some anger on each other, you know?"

If you don't understand, just cozy up to the walls of Bryant-Denny Stadium and listen. It won't be the same roaring crowd -- only a select group of people are let in to view the scrimmage -- but you'll hear the familiar crack of helmets colliding, the wailing whistles, and if you're lucky enough you'll catch wind of Nick Saban screaming at his charges. He said on Monday that he's looking forward to scrimmaging to get a gauge of what kind of attitude his players are bringing to the table. He's seen it in practice, but on Saturday he'll get to see it through a more accurate lens.

"What we're looking for at this point in time is guys that will go out and compete," he said, "and be able to play their position with the kind of effort and the kind of mental and physical toughness and the discipline that goes along with being able to execute and being responsible to do a job and do it play in and play out, whether they had success the play before or not."

Whether they're successful or not won't be the end. After all, it's just the first of three scrimmages. But for players, it is a chance to prove to themselves that they belong.

Pagan, who went through his first scrimmage in 2010, called the experience "horrible" as Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker taught him an "ugly" lesson in what it means to play football on the SEC level.

"It definitely opened my eyes to greatness and I wanted to be a part of it," said Pagan, now a projected starter on the defensive line.

C.J. Mosley, now an entrenched leader on the defense at inside linebacker, said Saturday will be all about the "effort and attention that you play with."

"That's what we preach around here," he explained. "If you're going to mess up in practice, you're going to mess up in the game."

But the roughly two-hour scrimmage is also a chance for veterans such as Mosley to see what all the fuss is about with their fellow teammates. They've seen the young up-and-comers do it on the practice fields, but they haven't been able to see it up close and personal.

Mosley, who won't be able to participate fully in the scrimmage as he recovers from shoulder surgery, said he's interested to see how one of his backups, rising sophomore Reggie Ragland performs.

"Once he gets his turn he's going to be a great linebacker. He's still learning the defense. We're still working with him, as far as me and Trey [DePriest], and when the scrimmage comes he's got to do what he has to do."

Another youngster Mosley pointed out was O.J. Howard. The former No. 2 tight end/H-back in the ESPN 150 enrolled at Alabama early just for moments like the one he'll experience on Saturday.

"He's doing what he can to try to find a spot on the team," Mosley said. "He's one of the players we're going to have to look out for in Saturday's scrimmage. That's one of the areas you look for in the first scrimmage. Everyone's going to have high intensity trying to showcase their talent and their ability."

Brian Vogler, who has taken first-team reps at tight end this spring, said Howard brings an entirely new dimension to the offense. He's been impressed with Howard's athleticism and ability to stretch the defense. But as with all the tight ends, every man is out to prove they're capable of replacing former starter Michael Williams.

"I'm ecstatic," Vogler said. "... all the tight ends are ready to show their reliability and consistency, and Saturday is the first day we can actually show that.

"Scrimmages are fun. It's the first time you get tackled in a while. The chance to go one-on-one with someone in the open field, it's a thrill. The scrimmage aspect is something we're all looking forward to."

The tight ends won't be the only ones under the microscope this weekend. The offensive line, secondary and defensive line have something to prove: Can Landon Collins take over Robert Lester's spot at safety, or will Vinnie Sunseri's experience win out? Is Ryan Kelly ready to assume the role of center, and will he be able to bring along an offensive line replacing three of its starters? How will Pagan and Co. step up their game and pressure the quarterback better than in years past?

Those questions won't be answered in a single day. As veteran guard Anthony Steen put it, "It's just a learn-from-experience type of thing." But the first scrimmage is the start of something. It won't be a game of consequence, but it will be a game environment, the sights and sounds of which will be a welcome change for all involved.