Kalen DeBoer showing why he was 'the guy' for Alabama

Jalen Milroe connects with Germie Bernard for a big play (0:28)

Jalen Milroe finds Germie Bernard near the sideline for a big Alabama White play. (0:28)

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Kalen DeBoer called the entire day "special," and as Alabama wrapped up its first spring practice with DeBoer as coach in its annual A-Day Game, his players said they can't wait to see what's next.

Quarterback Jalen Milroe and offensive guard Tyler Booker both said the positivity, confidence and energy that DeBoer and the new coaching staff have exhibited since their arrival has been exactly what the program needed with Nick Saban calling it quits after his legendary coaching career.

Booker has yet to see his new coach flinch from the time he first met with the team.

"That's why he was the right guy for the job," Booker said. "I feel like whoever took this job had to have heart because they knew who they were succeeding after Coach Saban. So just to be able to have the wherewithal to take this job and have the pride to do so ... he had my respect. Anybody who took this job would have my respect.

"He just continues to earn it and continues to prove why he was the guy for this job."

A crowd of 72,358 turned out Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium for DeBoer's debut in an offense-versus-defense scrimmage that saw the offense build a 31-0 lead and then hold on for a 34-28 victory in a specially designed scoring system. Saban, who watched the game from a suite with his family, attended the A-Day Walk of Fame ceremony before the game and joked, "I'm one of you. I'm one of the fans now."

DeBoer had Saban speak to the team for the first time this spring, and while DeBoer has been keenly focused on his team, he acknowledged that it "really hit him" Saturday seeing the passion of the fans and soaking in everything that is Alabama football.

"I think today was probably the day where you just really felt it, seeing the guys come on the Walk of Champions, just seeing that and feeling the energy, the excitement of what it would be on a Saturday," DeBoer said. "That was a lot of fun, and being in the locker room, just the excitement.

"And I thought the guys, as hard as they were playing, they were out there looking out for each other, too. I don't care if it was offense or defense, but most importantly offense and defense playing the game the way it's supposed to be played and the energy wanting to go out there and make the plays, but also not putting the team at risk."

As DeBoer left the field, he stopped to sign autographs for fans reaching out from the stands and even took a selfie with a fan who handed the coach his phone.

"It's been special to have him here because of who he is as a person," Milroe said. "You want to play for a coach like this, how personal he is with us. He has power and reinforcement behind the criticism as far as getting us better and putting us in position to be successful. I'm super excited to play under Coach DeBoer because I've learned so much playing quarterback here with him because he's offensive-minded. So that's special for me to have a coach that's offensive-minded, and it's going to push me to be great and push me to be successful."

Milroe, who finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting last season, connected twice on big gains early in the scrimmage with transfer receiver Germie Bernard, who followed DeBoer from Washington. Bernard was dynamic after the catch, and Alabama is looking for playmakers at the receiver position after losing its top two receivers from a year ago, Isaiah Bond and Jermaine Burton.

"I think he had a great day," DeBoer said of Bernard. "I mean, you saw it right away. The one that stuck out to me was the catch in contact. He high-pointed the ball. ... That's what he does. He's a physical guy. If the ball's in the air, it's his. That's his mindset."

Milroe's mindset is that he's "starving" to take it to another level this season after accounting for 35 touchdowns last season and bouncing back from being benched in Week 3 against South Florida. He said the staff's confidence in him has made him even hungrier.

"There are some things I can get better at from last year, so each and every day I'm trying to get my best me every single time I come into the facility, and I'm challenged to do that each and every day," Milroe said. "I have goals that I've set for myself, short-term goals and long-term goals that I need to do to be the best quarterback in the country this season. So I'm passionate. I'm starving to be great, and it's going to come with preparation through this offseason."

Even though the offensive production waned during the second part of Saturday's scrimmage, DeBoer said one of the things he liked best about the spring was that the quarterbacks didn't throw any interceptions during scrimmages. He also liked what he saw from his three running backs -- Jam Miller, Justice Haynes and Richard Young. All three had impressive moments Saturday and were especially good after contact.

"I thought they did a better job of when they saw a hole today, they hit it and especially early on there were some seams, and they were not dancing, which means they're getting more and more comfortable with the schemes, trusting the offensive line," DeBoer said.

Miller, a junior, had a 48-yard gain and rushed for two touchdowns. Alabama's defense was playing without injured starters linebacker Jihaad Campbell and defensive tackle Jaheim Oatis, but DeBoer said they both would have been able to play if spring practice had lasted another week or two.

"This team is passionate to play for our family, passionate to play for the state of Alabama, passionate to play for Coach DeBoer and our coaching staff," Milroe said. "There are a lot of things we're playing for and excited for what Coach DeBoer has in store for us."