Familiarity and trust were obviously the two main reasons Head Coach Mike Price decided to hire his son to help implement Bama's new offense. But Eric depends on his fellow offensive assistants as well. "Our staff works well together," he said. "There are guys on the staff that have been coordinators. I take a lot of input from them."
"It's a lot of fun," Price continued. "This place is awesome. These kids are great. The fans are great. Everyone is fired up and interested in what we're doing, so it's easy to coordinate. I've just got to make sure I've got everything organized and heading in the right direction."
Changing over from an option-oriented attack to the Tide's new philosophy of "pass first to set up the run," Eric Price and his staff have their work cut out for them this spring. "The players are learning the offense well, picking up the schemes," he related. "We've presented it very basic--a little bit at a time. It's all learning--how to run the play, how to break the huddle. We're getting better at alignment and assignment. We're teaching them how to work hard from the first to the 24th period, pushing harder each day.
"I'm pleased. There are some good things--and also some things we need to work on. But as long as we keep getting better each day, that's the main thing. We've got to be better today than we were Monday."
Just beyond the halfway point of spring practice, Price was candid about how much of the offensive playbook has been installed. "Not much, not much," he said shaking his head. "We've just put in the base formations and the base pass plays. Starting this week we're adding a few wrinkles to make everything fit together. Up to now it's just been blocks of plays (not connected)."
Shorter out routes and quick slants came easiest to Bama's players, but according to Price the long ball is what will make the offense go. "The short game is coming along pretty well," he acknowledged. "In fact the ‘quick game' is coming along great. But we like to throw the ball deep, and we will be throwing those routes more. We need to work on that."
Next season Tide fans can expect at least one receiver to run a "hero" or deep pattern on every play. "There's a certain knack to throwing and catching that ball," Price said. "You have to work on it every day. That'll be a huge part of our offense."
In last season's offense, executing the option pitch was just as important as throwing a good "out" pattern--maybe more. So the Tide quarterbacks are all having to relearn the position.
But Price likes what he's seen so far. "The quarterbacks are doing great," he said. "All of them can play at this level. They're picking up the offense well. Some of the fundamentals we're still working on. The backpedal out of the snap--that kind of thing. We'll add some shotgun plays in. Some of the throws and routes are new, but I've been surprised at how well they've done. They're smart kids.
"We'll be solid at quarterback."
With a cannon for an arm, sophomore Brodie Croyle is clearly ahead. "He's picking the offense up well," Price noted. "We're just missing on some deep balls, but I'll never criticize him for taking a shot at a touchdown. Of course if it's third and short and you have a short guy open, then you're obviously going to take it. But we're going to give Brodie the freedom to let that ball go and get it down the field."
Of course identifying big-play receivers capable of hauling in those long passes is equally important. "We've got some receivers that I think can start to make those deep plays," Price said. "Zach Fletcher and Triandos (Luke) have done a great job. Those two guys can go up and make that big catch. Zach has made it all spring long.
"Brodie has done a good job of putting the ball where it needs to be on the fade. Those two (Croyle and Fletcher) will be good for us."
With only the most basic pass routes installed, so far the greater emphasis has been on down-the-field receivers. But wideouts like Dre Fulgham and Lance Taylor, powerful athletes not afraid to catch passes over the middle, will soon have their turn. Price explained, "We've got some plays that we haven't put in yet that Dre will be great at. Some quick screens and underneath passes. He's a good blocker, too. Dre is so strong and aggressive."
In addition to his duties as offensive coordinator, Price is also the position coach for Bama's wide receivers. "With the receivers this spring I've mixed them around, letting them play all the positions," he related. "They're learning them all. But as we expand the offense that'll get more specialized."
The offense developed by Mike Price is noted for emphasizing the pass, but son Eric explained that rushing the football will be absolutely key. "I think the running backs like the new offense, because they get to run the football. There's not as much blocking for them. If it's a running play, they carry the ball."
Starting Monday the Tide offensive coaches began installing two-back and two-tight-end plays for short-yardage and redzone situations. "We'll be expanding the role of our running backs the next two weeks," Eric Price said. "The running game is a big part of our offense. It's not just passing. We'll mix it up more than most people think. The running backs are doing a great job of understanding their role. Then when their time comes, they'll take over."
Returning starter Shaud Williams is a known commodity at tailback, but redshirt freshman Kenneth Darby has also impressed, especially excelling during scrimmage work. "He's one we're counting on," Price acknowledged. "Early on we tried to give every running back a look, to see what guys could do. Of course scrimmages work best for that. I wish we could scrimmage all practice long. It's great to play ‘real' football. But Darby is doing a good job."
Once the base offense is installed, Price can start to branch out. "We'll start paying attention to scheming against the defense and to our personnel," he explained. "Up to now we're not watching what our players can do well or how the defense lines up. We've just concentrated on putting the plays in. Now we can start thinking about which guys run which plays well and fine-tuning the offense based on the talent of our players."