What Saban Thinks About As Practice Begins

Alabama returns to the practice field for the 2015 football season this week, and there are several things to think about. What, one wonders, does Nick Saban think about most as he prepares for the start of practice?

Let’s be serious here. We’re talking Alabama Coach Nick Saban. He’s thinking about everything. It would not be a surprise to learn he already knows which manager will be charged with running onto the field to retrieve the kicking tee after Bama kickoffs.

To be sure, he has outlined every aspect of Alabama football preparation as the Crimson Tide begins work. He has also likely given much thought to every position, even those seemingly in good hands. It’s the nature of football that during the course of a season back-up players will have to step up.

It is reasonable to expect Saban to follow the same general plan as in previous years at Alabama. After all, in his previous eight seasons leading Bama, the record has been exceptional – 91-17 with three national championships.

That means that Alabama will begin practice on Thursday with two sessions – a morning session of mostly returning players and an evening practice with most of the newcomers plus those veterans needed to fill out a practice squad. It has already been announced that the Tide will have its open practice and Fan Day next Sunday, Aug. 9. Practice will be from 2:30-4:30 p.m. CDT in Bryant-Denny Stadium, followed by the opportunity of fans to get autographs from players and coaches. A handful of two-a-day practices will begin the following week.

Alabama won the Southeastern Conference championship and played in the first ever College Football Playoff last year, finishing with a 12-2 record. This year’s season begins in the Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Sept. 5 against Wisconsin.

When Alabama practices, Saban pulls position duty, working directly with Tide cornerbacks. He has seen Cyrus Jones progress from converted wide receiver to all-star candidate at one cornerback spot. During the spring he worked on finding a replacement with Tony Brown, Marlon Humphrey, Bradley Sylve, Anthony Averett, and Maurice Smith. But (presumably) Thursday evening, he’ll also get his first work time with two of the nation’s top cornerback prospects from last recruiting season, Kendall Sheffield and Minkah Fitzpatrick.

On the other side of the ball, there has been much talk about the wide receiver corps, which lost all three starters last year, including the nation’s best in Amari Cooper. In the spring, Saban saw good things from Chris Black, Robert Foster, and Ardarius Stewart, among others. The group of incoming freshmen includes highly-regarded prospects in Calvin Ridley and Daylon Charlot.

No true newcomers are in the competition for the most important position on the field, and therefore the position of most interest. Five men received what Saban said was relatively equal work in the spring, did the same in the voluntary workouts in the summer, and will start out fall camp with that opportunity.

They are in order of class seniority senior Jacob Coker, junior Alec Morris, sophomore Cooper Bateman, redshirt freshman David Cornwell, and true freshman Blake Barnett.

Barnett was with Bama for spring practice, but it’s reasonable to expect him to be with the newcomers in the Thursday evening practice. If there is another, some may read something into that, but Saban has pointed out year after year that returning players are plucked for that evening workout for the sole purpose of having enough men to have a productive practice.

Although there will be some impatience to know the starting quarterback, Saban has emphasized that he will not be rushed. He has said that it is not the task of the coach to name a quarterback. It is, rather, the job of the quarterbacks to separate themselves and decide the battle. There is no timetable, though obviously one will have to start the opening game.

Running back is a position of interest. Two freshmen entered The University in January and went through spring practice, but neither will be involved in fall camp. DeSherrius Flowers had an academic issue that has delayed his entry. Bo Scarbrough suffered a knee injury that is expected to keep him sidelined for at least a few more weeks. Considering the graduation of T.J. Yeldon and the transfers of Altee Tenpenny (voluntary) and Tyren Jones (dismissed), the position was somewhat undermanned. Derrick Henry moves up to number one and Kenyan Drake is back after recovering from a broken leg suffered in the middle of the 2014 season.

There is another freshman running back arriving in Damien Harris, one of the nation’s top prospects last year. And there could be another newcomer in camp in speedster Xavian Marks, although his addition to the Bama roster has not been officially announced.

It is possible – likely, even – that when a depth chart is issued in the week prior to the first game that there will be some surprises. It will not be a surprise if the work of fall camp produces another very fine Alabama football team.

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