Alabama Coach Nick Saban Watching Youngsters

It was big news in college football last winter when Texas Coach Charlie Strong signed five top players from the state of Florida. This week the big news is that those players did not seem to be the type the Lone Star state would have wanted at the Alamo. They have deserted the Longhorns, perhaps more interested in places like San Destin than the fight at San Antonio.

And perhaps that’s the reason Alabama Coach Nick Saban was talking about freshmen following the Crimson Tide’s Wednesday practice. The Tide was out for two hours in temperatures in the high 90s that were matched by the humidity.

Although he wasn’t speaking specifically of freshmen when he said the Tide has made good progress in the first week of fall camp, Saban hit on topics that seemed to address the issues of new men in practice. He said, “I think this camp is a great opportunity for a lot of players to learn, get the knowledge and experience, get a lot of reps. But I think more importantly to develop the kind of mental toughness to actually sustain some difficult things, which always happen in camp.

“Every player that goes through camp gets really tired and really sore. It's a real challenge for them to be able to sustain their effort and play with the kind of intangibles and intensity that's going to allow them to execute and do their job well at their position and develop the confidence they need to help the team. So, how do you respond when things don't go well is something that every player that plays football in every camp has the opportunity to do.

“How do you respond to adversity? How can you sustain and play for 60 minutes in the game regardless of what happens?

“Everyone needs to have guidance, everybody needs to be supported, everybody needs to be corrected, everybody needs to be criticized. Everybody needs supervision. I don't know of any good things that happen when these things don't happen.

“This is one of the things that I talk to players about in terms of coaches coaching you. They're not really criticizing you.

“They're trying to teach you so you have a chance to get better. Our team has been pretty good from that standpoint. I see improvement but I also think we have a long way to go. It'll be interesting to see how some of the younger guys do when the coach is not out there telling them what to do and they've got to go out there and play on their own, and we won't find that out until a scrimmage and we really don't truly find it out until they have to play in a game.”

When Saban took questions, he was asked about young defensive backs, true freshmen Minkah Fitzpatrick, Kendall Sheffield, and Ronnie Harrison. Harrison took part in spring drills at safety.

Saban said, “Minkah’s done a really, really good job. He’s very instinctive and learns quickly, understands concepts. He’s probably going to a be a guy that, if he continues to progress, could make some contribution for us this year.

“Ronnie being here in the spring is probably going to help him make a contribution this year. He is doing a good job.

“I think all guys sort of progress at a little different level – and I think more about ability to grasp the concepts and develop confidence in doing these things because it’s more than some guys are used to doing. I think in Kendall’s case he has shown a tremendous amount of ability – a very talented guy, works hard. But I think right now some of these young guys get a little bit of a learning overload. They’re thinking about what they have to do rather than just reacting and doing it. And you never know how long it’s going to take to exactly come out of that. If Kendall can come out of it he’ll probably contribute as well.”

Wide receiver Calvin Ridley was one of the nation’s top prospects at wide receiver coming out of high school, compared to former Biletnikoff winners. Saban wasn’t going to put that pressure on Ridley.

The coach said, “ I wouldn’t make an assessment like that for any freshman. I don’t really think it’s fair to any freshman. The guy hadn’t even played yet. I think the guy’s got a lot of ability. Hopefully we can help him develop the confidence and knowledge and experience at his position so that he can play and contribute this year. But I wouldn’t put that kind of expectation on any young player.”

Alabama will have its first scrimmage of fall camp Saturday. Saban first pointed out that Bama has two practices Thursday and one Friday before getting to the scrimmage and said, “we’re going to take it one day at a time in this camp.”

But he did touch on what will be focal points Saturday, and it was no surprise that quarterback is a position of emphasis. He said, “We have given all the quarterbacks some chance. We’re going to have to make some evaluations before the scrimmage so that they get a number of reps that we can evaluate how they do out there when the live bullets fly. So that’s one thing we’ll try to get done between now and (the scrimmage).”

But once again there was mention of the young players. He said, I think what we’re really trying to do is evaluate a lot of the younger players so that” we can determine whether we think they can make the progress to make a contribution to this team. That’ll be one of the most important things.”

He added, “We’re obviously going to evaluate where we are on offense, defense, what we think we need to do to change, what we can and can’t do so that we’re doing things that our players are capable of doing. And it’s going to be really important that we find a core group of guys that will go out there on special teams so that that can be a real asset for us.”

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