Saban Talks About Alabama Pro Day

Jim Ryun was the premier track and field athlete of his day in the late 1960s at Kansas. He ran the mile in a little over 3:51, and had broken the four-minute barrier as a high school runner. The irrepressible Pepper Rogers was football coach of the Jayhawks, who were far from a national power. Pepper was asked if he had considered getting Ryun to come out for the football team.

Rogers explained that "third and a mile" was just an expression, that not even the Jayhawks ever needed a runner to go that far.

No one runs a mile in football. So why did legendary Coach Paul Bryant have his Crimson Tide players run the mile as part of their August reporting day physical examination? One theory (mine) is that the players all knew they were going to have to run the mile and Bryant wanted to see which ones had committed themselves in the off-season to be able to pass that assignment.

On Wednesday, a dozen or so former Alabama football players were participating in Pro Day in Tuscaloosa. Every National Football League team had representatives on hand to see how the former Crimson Tide players could handle jumping and running and lifting in various catenations.

It was an opportunity for defensive end Ed Stinson to string together a series of 27 bench presses with 225 pounds; for wide receiver Kenny Bell to perform a standing broad jump of 9-feet, 11-inches; for every player who elected to run the 40-yard dash to do it in 4 or 5 or so seconds; those numbers are guarded like state secrets.

So is a team going to draft placekicker Cade Foster because he did pretty well on bench presses? Or punter Cody Mandell because he showed pretty good speed in the 40?

Alabama Coach Nick Saban puts a lot of stock in measurables. He did it as head coach of the Miami Dolphins in the NFL when evaluating players for the draft and he does it when recruiting players for the Crimson Tide. But he doesn't put it above football.

Saban said that when an NFL coach calls Tuscaloosa to find out about a potential pro prospect, "He wants to know how a guy performs.

"That was what I was always most interested in – how a guy performs. For me as a coach when I was in the NFL, measurables just told me that ‘This guy's speed deficient,' and if he's a corner, that's going to be a problem. So regardless of how he performs, I can't not take that into consideration.

"But I was always a production first guy as long as the guy had the measurables. The measurables never made the guy a player. Just because a guy had good measurables and he wasn't a very good player on film, that never made him a player for me. But everybody does it a little different, and I think what we all search for when we evaluate players, because recruiting and evaluation of players for the NFL draft is not an exact science, but we oftentimes try to make it that way and we use measureables as the scientific approach to try to come up with the formula that this guy can do this, this, this, this, and this on measurable things that can make him a good player. But that's not always possible."

Not all of the players did all of the drills in Alabama's weight room and adjacent indoor football practice facility Wednesday. Wide receiver Kevin Norwood, for instance, had a great 40-yard time at the NFL combine. He didn't need to run the 40. Safety Vinnie Sunseri is still rehabilitating from knee surgery last season. He says that he's well along on his recovery, but he'll have another pro day opportunity in about three weeks, and that's three more weeks of getting better.

Saban said it was a good day and also a sad day Wednesday.

"We feel like when it comes to development of players to play football, a lot of guys really want the opportunity to play in the National Football League, and to get this kind of interest and representation from the league to give our players an opportunity is certainly what we'd like for each of our players to have," said the Bama coach. "So this is an exciting day.

"But it's a sad day in a way because you have such great relationships with all these players you hate to see them leave, and you certainly do appreciate the great job in representing the program while they were here."

In recent years, no college team has been more successful than Alabama in getting players into the NFL. Saban was asked about the reason for the Tide record on draft day. He said, "What we try to get our guys here to do is to compete one play at a time like it has a history and a life of its own and do it for 60 minutes in every game you play, trying to get the players to focus on what's happening right now. I use the term, ‘Be where your feet are now.' Don't worry about yesterday, don't worry about what's going to happen in the future, but do what you can do to affect what you are doing right now. I think players that can do that perform better in circumstances like this because they are focused on what they are doing rather than on what the outcome is going to be or what somebody is going to think about it or what happened last week or what happened at the combine. So it's a lesson in affecting what you can affect right now in terms of getting what you want in the future."

There had been reports that Cyrus Kouandjio, who left Bama after his junior season to try for the NFL, has been hampered by an old knee injury.

Saban said, "I'm not a doctor, but Cyrus played every game since he's been here since he's been back. Never missed any time, never missed practice. You look at history being the best indicator of what the future is going to bring, he's been able to perform extremely well, so that's all I can go on – my experience with him. It wouldn't be a concern for me because I have watched the guy perform after his injury very effectively."

Would Saban take Kouandjio in the first round?

"Yes, I think he's a first round guy," Saban said. "But what I don't have the opportunity to do being the coach here is I can't compare him to every other guy in the draft. That's what makes somebody a first round draft pick. Where is your talent and ability relative to everyone else? And it's not just everyone else at your position. It's everyone across the board. Who are the best players? I don't have the opportunity to make that comparison, but in my opinion he's a first-round draft pick."

Saban also said that he has not talked to former Tide linebacker Rolando McClain. McClain, who has had his problems off the field, retired from the Baltimore Ravens of the NFL prior to last season, just three years after being the eighth player taken in the first round (by Oakland) in the NFL draft. There have been reports that he plans to come out of retirement.

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