In the brief time Alabama Coach Nick Saban has had to talk about the start of preparations for the 2014 season, the theme has been clear: “The time is now to resurrect the identity of the Alabama football program,” he said in a Sunday morning press briefing.
“We're confident in the players we have, that it's really up to them to a large degree in terms of what their buy-in, what their commitment, what their preparation to perform on a consistent basis. What's their mind-set?
“All these things are questions that sort of get answered as time goes on. The time is now in terms of everything you've done all year long to develop the kind of leadership that you'd like to develop on your team, that players put the team first, that people buy into the things that they have to do to develop the respect and trust of their teammates so that you can really become a team.
“That's something that just doesn't happen in a day. I would say after a couple of days of practice, the things I would comment about would be a lot of players on our team understand this but a lot of players need to continue to understand and develop the ability to have the kind of mental intensity that it takes to execute, understand what their job is, how to do their job fundamentally so that they have an opportunity to be successful.
“I think players sometimes think, ‘I'm going out here to practice and if I can just get this right, I got it.’ But really you don't practice to get it right; you practice to do it so many times you can't get it wrong. And that's what we're trying to do with our players so that we develop habits that we need so that we can play with the kind of consistency in execution that it takes to be successful in what is a very, very difficult league.
“Camp objectives are always about discipline, execution, fundamentals, and the conditioning level that you have to develop on your team to be able to sustain those things. You can talk about effort, you can talk about finishing plays, you can talk about toughness. You can talk about discipline to execute, but when a player gets tired, conditioning is a prerequisite to be able to do all those things. And that's something that as much as you try to do in the summer, you develop in fall camp.
“Football players can't really develop unless they practice. A basketball player can go shoot baskets all he wants on his own. Nobody else needs to be around. A golfer can go do whatever he wants on his own.
“This is a team sport that you can only develop certain things when you practice and when you do it. And that's why fall camp is really, really important in terms of even the conditioning, the acclimation to having pads, the hitting involved. All those things to me have to be camp objectives and the developing conditioning to sustain is definitely very, very important.
“Our practice regimen is geared to try to develop this intensity, sense of urgency, sense of immediacy so that the players can play with the kind of intelligence that will allow them to put themselves in the best opportunity to be successful.
“The key thing right now, especially for young players, is ‘If I make a mistake, that's something that I need to learn from, not something that I need to get frustrated about.’ Guys that have had a lot of success in their career in the past sometimes don't have the focus and attention to detail on how to do things correctly because they've been able to get away with not doing them correctly and still have success.
“This is something that we're always constantly trying to work to get the young players to value the importance of doing the little things right.”
Saban said that some players had minor injuries that would have them miss a day or two. Linebacker Trey DePriest was in the absent category for Sunday’s practice at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Cornerback Eddie Jackson, who is working out after having had ACL surgery in April, was in a black (no contact) jersey.
Saban discussed some positions and some players.
One such question, of course, was regarding quarterbacks in general, and another Jake Coker in particular. As to the first, Saban said:
“I'm really encouraged by all the quarterbacks in terms of the improvement that they've made over the summer, how much they've improved from spring practice until now. That's been very encouraging. As the multiples go up on offense and defense in terms of how much they have to know and the elements they're going to have to respond to in terms of reading the scheme. That will probably kind of separate who's most ready to play. I think that's going to be a bit of a work in progress.
“I'm really kind of pleased with how all the guys have performed. It's only been two practices and everybody has a lot of opportunity to get better but we're pleased with the improvement that they made.”
On the question regarding junior transfer Coker, Saban answered:
“Jake’s been here all summer. He’s a very athletic guy, he’s got the right character, attitude, work ethic. He’s really fit in well with the other players in terms of the kind of personality he has and how they can relate to him. All those things have been extremely positive. I see a guy who certainly has raw talent, but I also have seen a little bit of apprehension. He’s a very conscientious guy, he wants to do things right in terms of knowledge and understanding systematically the offense, making the right decisions, getting the ball to the right place. We’re encouraged by what he’s done. We’re not disappointed at all. He’s been a real positive addition to our program. He’s been very, very competitive relative to the other quarterbacks. We want to continue to honor that development. Probably yesterday, only the second practice but this is how quickly these things can happen, I thought he had his best practice. Looked a lot more confident, played a lot faster, was more accurate with the ball. So all the things that are real important to that position you started to see fall into place. I know there’s a lot of competition at this position.”
And he added, without being asked:
No one ever seems to ask about Blake Sims, but he has done rextremely well so far in camp as well.”