Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban remembers when coaches feared having to use young players. He cited a statistic often attributed to former Tennessee Coach Robert Neyland, but that Saban attributed to Ohio State legend Woody Hayes, that a team would lose a game for every sophomore that played. This was prior to freshman eligibility.
Saban said, “We've changed quite a bit. I think that it's just the culture now relative to the number of guys you have on scholarship. The expectation for some of these players when they come in and they all want to play and the guys that respond and do well ... With the number of guys that seem to go out early in the draft, i don't think the focus is on redshirting as much as it is if somebody can help our team, let's just go ahead and play him. That's kind of how we've done it here, and we've been fortunate to have a few guys every year that have been able to help our team.”
Saban was asked if there were certain positions were areas where it might be more dangerous to play a freshman, an area where mistakes might be more common. He said, “I think that running back and receiver are probably the two areas that are probably simplest the simplest for a guy to play because you can minimize what he has to do and only play him on things that you know he knows. I think other positions are a little more difficult, whether it be the offensive line like Cam Robinson last year. There's a lot to learn. You have to know every play. But he handled it extremely well. I think if you're a defensive player, you have to understand the system and the scheme and can't make a lot of mental errors. Each position past those two probably lends itself to ... Maybe playing on defense is a little simpler, but there's a lot for a guy to know and when you're playing first game you don't always know if you're practicing everything a guy needs to know and how he's going to respond to the things that he hasn't practiced are always concerns with young players.”
Saban said, “I think both guys have done a really nice job for us. Damien Harris has had a really, really good camp. Certainly we have no apprehensions about using him in the game. Calvin Ridley has made progress. I think he needs to continue to improve and develop confidence in what he's doing. I think he has a chance to be a real contributing player for us this year.”
Also in the “young” category, redshirt freshman Marlon Humphrey is listed number one at cornerback. Saban said, “Marlon has done a nice job for us. Had a good spring and he's carried that right over into fall camp. He's much more confident in what he's doing right now, has a better understanding. He's played more physical football, and we like where he is.”
To the surprise of no one, Saban once again was asked about Bama’s unsettled quarterback situation.
He said, “We're going to try to make a decision on what's best for our team. That's exactly what we're going to do, what we feel like is going to give us the best opportunity to win. I don't think it's a similar approach to anything we've done in the past because each set of players is a little bit different, each team is a little bit different. I think we're going to do what's best for our team.”
Saban was asked if he would be more conservative in the offensive approach with a new quarterback. He said, “I think the more important thing is to not ask players to do what they're not ready to do or they can't do. I think the more important thing is to allow a player to do what he's capable of doing and that he has confidence he can execute. I think it's important for the rest of the team to play well around a new quarterback, too. I've always said that quarterback's one of the most difficult positions to play when the people around you don't play well. I think that's something that's important in developing confidence in a new starter. I don't think conservative is the right word. I think it's more doing what the player can do.”
Saban said, “We've had a good week of preparation. We had a good day today indoors, trying to get out of the heat a little bit since we're playing inside. I think right now the big thing is mental practice for the next couple of days. Not practice as much on the field but get a lot of mental reps off the field, watch a lot of film. When you talk about what do you want to accomplish, what are you willing to do to do it, well, part of that is preparation. When you get to the game everyone's going to want to win but did you do all the things you need to do to win before you get to the game. I think that's what we're trying to emphasize right now to our players, and I've been pleased with the way they've done that to this point.”
Also of interest was his answer to a question about the H-Back tight end, where O.J. Howard and Ty Flournoy-Smith are bracketed. Saban said, “O.J.'s one of our best players so we're going to feature him every way we can. We think he's a really, really good player. Ty Smith has done a good job, and he's sort of O.J.'s backup and we have confidence in him and we think he's a capable player and has made improvement. There are circumstances and situation in a game where he'll have a role as well.”
Saban also gave a couple of nuggets. He said that wide receiver Cameron Sims, who suffered a knee injury last spring, has been cleared to play, but did not say that meant Sims would play Saturday.
In discussion of Cyrus Jones as a punt return man, Saban said that Jones – Bama’s starting cornerback the past two years – had gotten some work on offense. Jones came to Alabama as a wide receiver.
With the game just a few days away, Saban said, “We're really excited about the opportunity that we have to play a very good Wisconsin team. They've had a lot of success in the past. this team is certainly focused on trying to create an identity of their own for themselves, and not really anything that has been done in the past but what this team's identity is going to be in terms of the kind of discipline, effort, toughness, execution that we can do. I've been pleased with fall camp and the way we've prepared for the game. Always in the first game we’re anxious to see how your players respond.”