The surprise: “I would say inside linebacker is an area that we need to continue to develop,” he said.
That is the position where Bama lost C.J. Mosley in the first round of last spring NFL draft, and also the position where returning starter Trey DePriest has been absent with an injury for much of fall camp.
But Reggie Ragland is among those who have had rave reviews, DePriest is back, and true freshman Shaun Dion Hamilton has been mentioned for his play.
Although DePriest has returned to practice, Saban said, “The biggest issue with Trey right now is that he’s probably pretty close to 100 per cent from an injury standpoint, but based on the time that he missed his conditioning is not what it needs to be. I can’t see far enough down the road to our schedule to know when we’ll play a team that gets into a huddle. So if you’re not in really good condition on defense you’re going to have a hard time sustaining and playing well. I would say that’s the biggest concern that I would have for him is his conditioning, continue to improve his conditioning, so that he can play this pace of play and sustain.”
The only thing surprising about the second positional group mentioned by Saban as an area in need of improvement is that he would suggest the quarterbacks.
“Even though I’m pleased with the way both quarterbacks have progressed I think it’s so critical to the team that we have a guy who can play with consistency at that position and can play winning football there, that that’s something we need to continue to improve on.”
The quarterback battle is considered a two-man race, senior Blake Sims, who has been in the system and was Bama’s backup to A.J. McCarron the past three years, and junior Jacob Coker, who transferred from Florida State.
Saban added, “I don’t think there’s any part of our team that does not need to improve. But those two we’re really focused on in terms of what they need to do for us to be a better team.”
Saban said, “We’ve had a good week so far. We’ve gotten a lot of guys back who are getting healthy and have the opportunity to get reps and practice – starting to develop a little continuity on both sides of the ball. We certainly have a long way to go.
“It’s so important when you get to this point; a lot of guys, it’s been a long time since we played a game. We’ve really had a lot of practices -- practice against each other a lot. Players get tired of doing the same things over and over and over, but the important thing is that you have the ability to execute and do your job.
“When I look at the film every day I see not necessarily a lack of execution when it comes to assignments, but guys being able to fundamental execute on a consistent basis and give themselves the best chance to be successful. I think that’s probably the biggest thing that we need to improve on because players are so result oriented. If they catch a pass for a big play that’s good. Well, maybe they didn’t do it right. Maybe we didn’t protect it right. So maybe the result is not necessarily worthy of the execution. To get the results that you want on a consistent basis you have to get the fundamental execution right as much as possible.”
The injury situation is about as expected. Defensive end A'Shawn Robinson has returned from injury with no physical problems other than needing to catch up on his conditioning. Offensive linemen Dominick Jackson (“did some things today”) and Leon Brown (“we put him on a pitch count, and every day we’ve increased it – 16 to 24 to 32 to 40, so he’s about ready to go full go with no problems”) are back.
Cornerback Eddie Jackson, who has been practicing throughout fall camp after having ACL surgery last spring, “is back practicing and doing well,” Saban said. “But he’s not where he needs to be because he missed a few practices. We’re just going to take him one day at a time and see how fast he progresses – see where he gets to.”
Also making a return is outside linebacker Tim Williams, who was suspended for the early practices.
Saban was a bit short in discussing Williams making a return.
“Well,” the coach said, “he missed 20 practices, so what kind of challenge is it for the other guys who are practicing every day at that position? He’s going to have to practice and get himself in shape, and work to show people that he’s capable of having a responsibility and a role on this team and be trusted to do the right things.”
Saban noted that every NFL draft report on a player “starts with what a good football player a guy is, he can do this, this, this and this. It’s all good. Then it’s two words that come after that, ‘but’ and there’s nothing good that comes after ‘but.’ Or there’s ‘and’ … he’s a good person, ‘and’ he does what he’s supposed to do, ‘and’ he’s well liked by his teammates, ‘and’ he can be trusted, ‘and’ he respects everybody, ‘and’ he does the right things. ‘But’ is not good because most of the time there’s a but in that report, things go downhill after that.
“And that’s everybody’s responsibility to understand what they have to do to do the right things, and we certainly want to support our players to do the right things, and help them realize the consequences of not doing the right things in terms of helping them be successful as people, in school, as football players, all these things. The reason these guys are here are to be more successful in life. We want them to have a successful football career, and academic career, but hopefully some of the things that they learn will help them be more successful in life.”
Alabama will begin preparation for its opening game Friday. The Tide opens the season a week from Saturday, Aug. 30, against West Virginia in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
Saban said, “It’ll be like our Monday of game week so we’ll actually get a couple of extra practices in on them. They’re a very explosive team, have a lot of team speed, score a lot of points on a lot of people last year. I think when they played well defensively they were a pretty good team. When they didn’t … they got a lot of players back on defensive side, and watching their spring game they looked very good on defense. It’s going to be a real challenge for us as all first games are, but it’s also a great barometer to see where you are. So we’re looking forward to it.”
With the close of camp and the beginning of game preparation, Saban said, “I would say the biggest takeaway that I get from this team is, I think that this team really and truly likes each other. I think this team is much more bought into doing the things that they need to do to be successful. There’s not a lot of complaining. I don’t see a lot of negativity, I don’t see a lot of negative people and I think that’s always a good sign.
“Now, do we have better players, do we have better players at all the positions? I think that’s something that you kind of see as you play, and you compete and see how guys play in games. Do we have the right kind of chemistry to overcome adversity, to be the kind of relentless competitor that you need to be to sustain the season in our conference. All those things remain to be seen, but that’s the things that I’m most encouraged about is the way they go about their work and what they try and do.”