No School Can Overlook Autograph Issues

Offense, defense, and special teams were on the agenda as Alabama Coach Nick Saban participated in the weekly Southeastern Conference teleconference with sports reporters. But the big question was about “John Hancock,” or at least some signatures.

Although the question of players autographing items that end up on sales tables has affected every high profile university, including Alabama, it is back in the headlines with Georgia having suspended star running back Todd Gurley and Florida State continuing to cover up (okay, perhaps legitimately) for quarterback Jameis Winston.

Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban was asked about the concern and about the process of prevention at Bama. He said, “It's always a concern of ours any time that there's an issue in college football that's very, very difficult to control externally.

“We are very vigilant with our process of how we counsel players, teach players. Our compliance people try to do the best possible job that we can so that we don't have those issues.

“There're a lot of folks out there that are trying to do these types of things for their own personal benefit, and the player is the one that's going to suffer the consequences if he doesn't make a good choice and decision.

“It is a concern.

“We'll continue to do the best job that we possibly can in terms of our process of how to manage this.”

As to football, Saban addressed the challenge of hosting Texas A&M in an SEC game this week. The Crimson Tide, 5-1 overall and 2-1 in league games, and the Aggies, 5-2 overall and 2-2 in SEC games, will kick off in Bryant-Denny Stadium at 2:30 p.m. CDT Saturday. CBS will televise the game.

Saban said, “Texas A&M obviously is an outstanding team and very, very explosive offensive team that scores a lot of points and makes a lot of big plays and has a lot of big-play players. Defensively, I think they're much improved. This is one of the best teams that we've had to play all year long, and it's going to be a real challenge for our players.

“We're happy to be at home. Hopefully our players gained a little bit of confidence last week by competing well in the game and will be able to carry over and do the same in this game this week.”

An issue with Bama this year has been handling punts, and particularly short punts that have either been mishandled or have touched potential Bama blockers, resulting in turnovers. Asked about the problem, Saban said, “We work on it all the time. We've made our players very aware, and when people do a lot of this spread-out front, rugby-type punts, you don't always get catchable balls.

We don't always practice that enough, and I think that's something that we've just practiced more. And I think the players are more aware now. And hopefully we won't have those issues in the future.”

A follow-up question dealt with the fact that return game mistakes were being made by experienced players, notably Christion Jones who was SEC Special Teams Player of the Year last year and pre-season All-SEC as a return man.

Saban said he thinks the men who have been having problems “ probably learned from their mistakes and learned that pressing to try to make a play when it isn't there really probably isn’t the way to make a play. And they've got to trust and believe in doing things correctly and with discipline so that that's going to give them the best opportunity to make plays.”

Alabama has another fast-paced, passing offense to deal with this week and the Tide coach was asked the secret to stopping teams like Texas A&M.

“I don't think there's any question about the fact that you've got to play very, very disciplined, have great eye control in terms of reading run/pass, and discipline in coverage responsibility,” Saban said. “Affecting the quarterback is always important. Getting turnovers is always important. And not allowing them to have a lot of explosive plays, which we didn't do very well last year.

“We need to do a much better job in those areas if we're going to be able to control their offense at all.”

Although there may have been some problems this year, the Alabama offensive line play over the years has been consistently strong. Saban was asked about having an elite offensive line and whether there are new factors that make that task more difficult.

Saban said the most important thing is to recruit good players and the second most important thing is to develop them, “because I think offensive line is kind of a developmental position.”

The Tide coach does think there is a new factor in the process.

“There is a lot more spread option type football in high school,” he said. “So to find powerful guys to play offensive line becomes more and more difficult, only because of the way the style of football has changed. Sometimes you have to make sure that your style of football is something that you can recruit players to.”

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