Alabama players, returning players and newcomers, will start work Friday. Technically, the players report Thursday. In truth, the players have been in Tuscaloosa throughout the summer working on strength and conditioning, having player-only drills, and under a new rule this year meeting with coaches for “skull sessions” for a brief amount of time.
Alabama will have fall camp (including a few days of two-a-day practitces) until beginning game-preparation on Aug. 25. The Crimson Tide opens the 2014 season against West Virginia on Saturday, Aug. 30, in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
Bama, coming off an 11-2 season that included back-to-back losses to end 2013, has generally been picked to be among the nation’s top teams this year, the first season of the new four-team College Football Playoff system.
If Alabama is going to be in that championship foursome some new starters will have to come through.
It is difficult to have a discussion of 2014 Bama football without starting at quarterback. Alabama Coach Nick Saban has pointed out that no one has won the job, in part because one of the combatants – Jake Coker – has not had a chance to compete with the team. Coker, the transfer from Florida State, has two years to play, and most believe he was brought in to have the job. Upcoming senior Blake Sims and redshirt freshman Cooper Bateman are also considered to be in the mix. Sims has been the back-up to A.J. McCarron the past few years and reportedly had a good spring except for A-Day, when he had a very poor performance.
Saban suggested the spring game format did not give Sims a good opportunity to exhibit his strengths. Bateman, on the other hand, had some bright moments in the public scrimmage.
Still, the favorite in fan polls is Coker, who was beaten out in the last week before the first game at FSU last season – beaten out by eventual Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winstron.
There’s another aspect of quarterback play of particular interest in the Alabama camp. That involves new quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. Kiffin, generally regarded as a petulant and unsuccessful head coach at Tennessee and USC, is back in the assistant ranks this year and Saban said he has fit in well and been accepted by the players.
There were some off-season incidents, notably junior college transfer defensive end Jarran Reed and junior back-up tailback Kenyan Drake being arrested and, subsequently, being suspended from team activities.
Even those who have driven under the influence would agree that one has to be a knucklehead to do it. Reed may have been saved from a much worse fate. He was arrested for DUI in a parking lot.
Drake was arrested for trying to cross a police crime scene area to retreive his car. He was not involved in the crime being investigated.
Prior to the start of fall camp, Saban said, “Kenyan Drake has been really, really doing well. He really has. He's had a really good offseason, really good summer. I don't condone what he did. I don't think it something that was malicious or intended to hurt anybody else but still not good behavior.
“So that’s something. Now, if a guy proves he can’t represent himself, the institution and all that the right way by multiple (occurrences) I mean, I guess there’s an end of the rope for everybody. And you see it happening everywhere. So it’s a cultural thing.”
Part of Drake’s previous problems have involved academics misbehavior.
There are others for whom academics is a question, notably incoming running back/athlete Bo Scarbrough. Saban said prior to the start of camp that Scsrbrough’s process for qualification was “incomplete.”
There will be many questions at various positions, including both punter and placekicker, left offensive tackle, and cornerback spots. But, as Saban has pointed out on many occasions, that is what practice is for.