Time For Tide To Learn Football

The visual cliche -- hot sun beating down as football players toil in full gear hour after hour, beer-gutted assistant coaches giving tongue lashings that would make a drill sergeant blush. Well, it is hot, but that's about as far as the stereotype of college football practice goes in Tuscaloosa.



To be sure it is, as Alabama Coach Nick Saban said Sunday, "a tough time of the year. This is the time of the year that players have to go earn it. You sort of have to pay the price for success up front. It's a tough time of the year when you're going through fall camp. I think from a football player's standpoint everybody kind of expects that."

But it's not brutal. There are real water breaks--not just a wet towel being passed from player to player, each expected to suck a little moisture out before handing it to his teammate. Heck, Bama practiced in Bryant-Denny Stadium Sunday wearing shorts. Or, as offensive coordinator Jim McElwain put it earlier in the day, "practicing in their underwear."

Recent rules mandate a five-day period of acclimation -- two days in shorts, two days in shoulder pads, and then finally into full gear. There is one practice per day for five days and then two-a-days on every other day can begin.

Saban pointed out, " We never practice here unless the players can eat twice and drink twice between every practice only for their ability to recover. When you practice in these kind of circumstances and conditions that we practice in I think in the long term you're better off because you have more guys practice and less guys having problems. That obviously contributes to how you can develop players as a team."

A college football team is allowed 29 practices prior to its first game. Bama will have its first of two-a-days on Wednesday. The Crimson Tide is working towards its season-opening game on September 3 when Alabama will host Kent State in Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Saban was a leader in getting the pre-season practice schedule adjusted for the benefit of players.

"We have the same number of practice days we have always had," Alabama's head coach said. "The difference is they are a little more spread out now, which is probably a good thing, especially in the Southeast where heat is an issue. Having the opportunity to spread things out a little more is much better management for the health and safety of the players."

Saban pointed out that the 29 practices were formerly in fewer days. As a result, Saban didn't use all the available practice segments. He would spread out the practices. As a result, his team would have only 24 or 25 practices instead of 29 before the first game.

But it wasn't a disadvantage.

"We actually had more guys practice for 25 practices than we had for 29 before we started doing it," Saban said. "We submitted all the information to the NCAA so they would change the rule for the health and safety of the players. They saw the benefits from a medical standpoint in terms of the number of guys who got IVs, and the number of guys who got injured, and the number of guys who had heat-related problems, and that's how we sort of got to where we are now."

Saban also said that he has "player-friendly" practices.

He doesn't micromanage his assistant coaches, but he does have a workplace mentality.

"I think everybody has got to coach the players like he coaches the players," Saban said of his assistant coaching staff. "I don't think it's for me to evaluate the intensity that somebody works with as long as it's effective and it's player-friendly. When I say player-friendly, you don't want to have coaches on your staff who are getting on the players so bad that none of the players can really respond to it in a positive way. One of the real things that is a part of I think our pyramid of success is being positive and supportive and helping provide a direction to develop but also emotionally supportive and helping guys develop the confidence they need to play.

"That is being a teacher."

Alabama has now had three practices. Saban said the first eight practices are heavy on installation of technique and schemes. He said, "For young players especially who everyone probably has the most interest in trying to evaluate, that's the most difficult time to evaluate because the learning curve is extenuated and accelerated ad you're trying to teach all these things and put all these things in. Really, it's more about evaluating how a guy's learning what he's supposed to do than it is about what he can do.

"I know everyone wants some instant prediction on who's gonna play and who's gonna be able to contribute and which young guys are going to be able to do this, that and whatever.

"I think football is a developmental game, and I've talked about that before. It's gonna take some time for us to be able to install things with these players so that they develop a little confidence in what they're supposed to do, how they're supposed to do, why it's important to do it that way so they can kind of go out there with some confidence and direct their efforts in a positive direction toward their unit whether it's offense, defense, special teams or whatever.

"I know that everybody wants to ask questions, 'Well how about this guy?' It's really too early to tell.

"I'm pleased with the freshman group. We have some guys that are going to develop into pretty good players, and there may be a few guys that are gonna help contribute to this team. There's certainly a lot of opportunity, especially in certain areas of the team. We're hopeful that some of those guys can develop and be contributors this year."

Saban said in the first few practices he has seen "lot of guys committed to a high standard and have worked hard. Like every team, we have some question marks and challenges. How that works out will go a long way in determining where this team can go. It's about how many guys go and do their jobs on a consistent basis."

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