Bama Goes Back To Practice Field

Hopefully, Alabama's return to the practice field was not in weather the Crimson Tide will play in when it goes to the Capital One Bowl in Orlando. It was rainy in Tuscaloosa Thursday, and so plans to practice outdoors were changed. Bama had a two hour practice in full gear in the indoor practice facility.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban said, "It's good to have the players back. It's good to be out on the field." He discussed the plan for filling in for Mark Barron at safety, the practice plan, and the opponent.

Saban said, "Bowl games are a unique opportunity, regardless of what just happened or what happened in your season. You have another chance to be the team you want to be. It's really a one-game season."

Alabama will face off against the Big Ten co-champions, Michigan State, in the Capital One Bowl on New Year's Day at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. Kickoff will be at noon CST with television coverage by ESPN.

"I think that we learned a little bit a few years ago in the Sugar Bowl that it takes a lot of preparation," Saban said. "You have to respect the other team and you have to do the right things in getting ready to play the game. A lot of people look forward to these kinds of games. It's a great challenge and we're playing against a Top 10 team.

" Michigan State is a really good team. We need to respect the Big Ten. They've been doing fairly well in the Capital One Bowl against the SEC, and we're sort of representing the SEC. We need to prepare ourselves and be the team we're capable of being."

Saban added, " I sort of reminded the players that we're only better than the other team when we're at our best and everybody needs to make a commitment to do the things they need to do to be their best in this game. Everybody has to take ownership for it, not only for themselves, but for the accountability that everybody else has to it as well."

Alabama is 9-3 and coming off a 28-27 loss to number one ranked Auburn. Michigan State went 11-1 in regular season play.

Saban said Bama would practice seven more times in the next six days. "The first four days we kind of do like a camp, like we're starting camp all over again," Saban said. "We try to work on a lot of fundamentals. We've been off for a little longer this year than last year, so I think that's important to develop timing, tackling, block protection. Timing in the passing game, quarterbacks, receivers. It goes quickly, but it comes back quickly when you haven't been off that long."

After working in Tuscaloosa through December 22, players will get a short break, then reassemble in Orlando the evening of December 25, Christmas Day. Practice will resume in Orlando on December 26. Bama will have a total of 14 practices, including the Friday walk-through before the game.

Three Tiders will miss the game having had recent surgery. Cornerback B.J. Scott had ankle surgery late in the season. All-America safety Mark Barron had surgery on his pectoral muscle after being injured against Auburn. Linebacker Jonathan Atchison suffered a bicep injury in the weight room and had surgery "just a few days ago." Although center William Vlachos missed Thursday's practice, it was with illness and he is expected to return to the practice field soon.

Saban said he expected to replace Barron with the back-up safeties rather than try to move players into a new position.

The coach said, "Mark is one of our most productive players. He's certainly an All-America caliber player. He's also a leader for us, and the guy who has the most experience.

"But Will Lowery and Nick Perry are the two guys that are the backups at that position. I'm not sure that there is any other solution to moving guys around or they haven't had reps at that position, taking a corner and playing him at safety and all that kind of stuff. I just don't see where that is going to benefit us, especially with the depth issues that we have with B.J. Scott being out. We're sort of thin all the way around in the back end. Those guys have experience, though, and they've played some, especially Will Lowery. We'll just work through it and see what the best combination is, but I think that's what we're going to end up doing."

The coach does not expect the bowl preparation time to be a time of position experiments. He pointed out that Ed Stinson had moved from linebacker to defensive end late in the season "and we'll continue to do that now." Otherwise, he said, the bowl preparation time "gives gives us a tremendous opportunity to coach the young players and try to develop them in these extra practices."

As for the challenge of Michigan State, Saban said, "Michigan State has a really good team. Any time you win 11 games, I think that you have to have a good team. They have tremendous resiliency. They've come back in a lot of games, found ways to win. They have a very good quarterback. They're a very efficient team. They don't make a lot of mistakes. They don't give you much. You really have to beat them. They don't beat themselves a lot. It's a real tribute to Mark Dantonio and the job he's done in terms of the discipline they have and the toughness they've played with and the intangibles that their team has. They have a good runner on offense. They have a couple of guys. They have a really good quarterback who has a strong arm and throws the ball all over the field, especially to the field. He can complete passes, which makes you defend the whole field. They're able to run the ball and have balance offensively. Defensively, they play really well up front. They're a real good gap-control team. They're good in all phases, special teams as well. This will be a challenging game for us. I think the biggest thing is they've beaten several teams in the fourth quarter, and came back to and won games. They have tremendous resiliency. I think that you have to have a lot of respect for that."

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