Rookies get early experience at Arkansas

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- By the time halftime mercifully came at Razorback Stadium, the exits were the only thing Arkansas fans wanted to see. Alabama's throttling of Arkansas was enough to make the home crowd brave the hills of the Fayetteville campus and find their way back home.

While Alabama built its lead, the stadium took on the feel of a spring scrimmage, a few fans dotting the stands while rookies took to the field with something to prove. What they missed, breaking down their tents and barbecues while Alabama won 52-0, was a glimpse at the future of the Crimson Tide.

In junk time, a number of first- and second-year players got a chance to not only play, but face an SEC opponent on the road.

Freshman Marvin Shinn had his first career reception, so did Danny Woodson Jr.

Denzel Devall recorded his first sack, as did D.J. Pettway.

The thrill of playing and hearing coach Nick Saban scream on the sidelines is an experience senior center Barrett Jones said is invaluable to freshmen.

The old hand on the Alabama roster sat on the sidelines Saturday and remembered where he got his start.

"The first game I ever played in was 2008 right here before I redshirted," Jones said. "It's such a really cool experience to get some of those younger guys in there."

Jones said getting reps with the first-team line and the backup quarterbacks could prove important, too. Starting quarterback AJ McCarron injured his hand during the game and Phillip Ely came in to spell him under center, followed by Blake Sims.

"That's valuable, too, just to do that in case something were to happen and to have that familiarity there," he said.

Sims and Ely combined to go 3-for-4 passing for 24 yards. Sims rushed the ball twice for 27 yards and a touchdown.

"It's great for the players, all these guys want to play," said Alabama coach Nick Saban. "They work hard, they deserve to play, we love to get them to play. We wanted to get an opportunity for the other quarterbacks to have a chance to play with the first line and the first receivers."

Saban said it comes down to being ready to play when your name is called.

"I yelled more at the second team than I did the first team," he said. "Those guys, we practice all that stuff and they don't go out and do it right in the game. They don't do as well on the test because they don't think they're going to play.

"Well, you're one play from playing. We have to count on you. Can we count on you? If you have no other motivation in the world, your motivation should be, 'I don't want to be the guy that screws up.' "

But more than motivation, Saban wants to see them react to the situations being a game present.

"We've got young guys that have to learn by doing it and hopefully they'll learn," he said. "It does them good when they get their butt chewed out a little bit, too. It helps their mental toughness, I think."

Robert Lester's heard an earful from Saban in his time at Alabama. The redshirt senior safety doesn't do much yelling at players himself, though, unless it's a shout of encouragement.

"They sit there and motivate us when we're in the game, so we're going sit there and motivate them when they're in the game," he said.

Lester, who passed up an opportunity to go to the NFL a season ago, knows its the players he saw on the field Saturday night who he'll be rooting for from afar next year.

"They're the ones that have to play in the future," he said. "To play against a great team like Arkansas, to get that experience, is big for them."