Saban Has Two Challenges For Tide

It is reasonable to believe that Alabama football players, just getting started in fall camp in preparation for the 2013 season, see challenges at every turn. The Crimson Tide as a team has the challenge of living up to Bama tradition generally and to the accomplishments of their immediate predecessors, which have won back-to-back national championships and three of the last four.

Alabama players also have the challenge of competing for starting jobs, or even playing time, and doing so in the heat of Deep South August.

Bama Coach Nick Saban has gone through this before, and he boils the challenges down in the process of having players be the best they can be.

"There are two things you have to prove," Saban said before sending his team out at Bryant-Denny Stadium for its third practice of fall camp.

"You have to prove you can play at a high level, but you also have to prove that you can sustain a high level of performance over time, which is consistency; and consistency in performance defines success.

"That's two challenges."

Bama opened practice Friday in shorts and helmets, went into shoulder pads Sunday, and will be in full gear this week.

Saban said, "We certainly do think the acclimation process that the players have an opportunity to go through right now is really advantageous to developing your team physically probably from an individual standpoint as well as from a team standpoint.

"Today will be our first day with really shoulder pads on. We've had two really productive days."

Saban has told the players that not only is the performance of last year's national championship team not part of the challenge, it is not even a part of this team. "What has been accomplished in the past doesn't have anything to do with this team," he said he told them. "It's all about the identity you create for yourself by what you achieve and what you do."

Even in the early stages of fall camp, Saban can begin to judge his players. He said, "You can see that some players have the ability to almost get better as things get a little bit more difficult in terms of the volume of information as we input things, as well as the difficulty of sustaining in the heat and the conditions that we have to practice in; or in the circumstances of how you feel.

"It shows which guys can stay focused on the goals and aspirations that they have and which guys have a tough time dealing with all that kind of stuff. That also says a lot about how you compete, because things are going to be difficult in terms of the circumstances that we have to compete in against a lot of good opponents in a lot of different kinds of places and competitive venues."

He said, "Already after just two practices, you can look at that glass as half empty or half full. You see some players who can do it and you see some players who struggle to do it. I'm not disappointed. You make players aware of it. You point it out to them. 'Are you giving the kind of effort that you need? Are you having the kind of focus to execute the technique we need to have you execute?' I don't think there's any player who doesn't want to do it. It's just building the maturity and mental toughness to sustain it. That's part of the development of every player. The older players can do it because they've been through it before and can understand it. It's a process that the younger players have to go through so that they can develop those qualities and characteristics."

Saban reiterated one of his messages to the players about what it takes to be better. He said that he asks the players if they think that lifting weights and getting stronger is what makes them play better. While that's true, there are other factors.

"But they don't always make the association of making good choices and decisions off the field, really living your life with character, caring about other people, serving other people, relationship-oriented type person, any of that decision-making and choices, ever carry over on the field. We've been trying to make guys a little more aware of that; if you practice the right things off the field, it'll be a little easier to play with that same kind of discipline and character on the field. And can you make that association between the physical improvements you make in the weight room and the psychological improvements you can make by practicing and doing the right things."

As has been the case in each fall camp, Saban has brought in various speakers on motivational and behavioral issues to speak to the team "about making good choices and decisions [to] enhance their opportunities to be successful."

Saban said, "This team's ability to be successful is going to get determined to a large degree by how they develop, what their commitment is to a standard of excellence, the kind of team chemistry that we develop during this time. We've just got to see how all that transpires."

Acknowledging that it is early, Saban was asked if he had an impression yet of the newcomers to the Crimson Tide.

He said, "I think you start to develop an impression of guys as you get to know them. But again, it goes right back to ‘Who has an ability to play at a high level.' I think that's what you recognize as a first impression. But the question is, can a guy have the maturity to sustain and improve the consistency that he can perform with as he gets more multiples thrown at him and as the circumstances get a little more difficult and challenging for him to be able to sustain.

"With young players, to me, that's the critical factor. Can they do that? If that's the case, then they have an ability to focus on the things they need to improve and then they can be responsible to do a job because of that.

"That's sort of a work in progress. I think there are a lot of players out there that are young players that can make a contribution to the team. The key word there is can. That means they have the ability to do it, but can they prove they have the psychological disposition to sustain it in a way they can play winning football in our system and have the character, attitude and discipline - all the things we talk about all the time to be able to do that. That's not something you do one time or two times. It's got to be who you are in terms of your consistency and performance."

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