Alabama’s football team returned to the practice field for the first time since the 2015 Crimson Tide won the national championship, but as Coach Nick Saban has pointed out, this is not the national championship Bama team. Bama was out for about two hours in shorts and helmets.
Following the Friday workout, Saban said, “One thing was pretty obvious today was that we have some good players, but we also have a long way to go to get to where we need to be.”
Some of those “good players” were not participating in the first workout of spring training, and Saban said “We've got some guys that probably will miss most of the spring, maybe all of the spring.”
Those include three men who were starters last year – defensive tackle Jonathan Allen (shoulder), offensive tackle Cam Robinson (tackle), and safety Eddie Jackson (leg). Also mentioned were wide receiver Raheem Falkins (leg), tight end Dakota Ball (foot), and early enrollee linebacker Shawn Jennings, who Saban said came in with an injury suffered in high school.
“Those guys will have a difficult time to probably have a chance to participate at all in the spring,” Saban said.
Although Saban didn’t mention him, wide receiver Robert Foster, who missed most of last season with an early season shoulder injury, was in a black “no contact” jersey Friday.
Saban said Bama “had a really good off-season program,” and that on the first day on the field he “really, really” like the effort.
“I think there’s a lot of anxiety any time you have a lot of new players that have new roles when you have a first practice.
“Obviously it tells you where you are and some of the things you need to work on to get where you want to be.”
The newcomers include eight players who signed and enrolled for the spring semester and are taking part in drills. Bama’s coaching staff has also changed with three new members, including defensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach Jeremy Pruitt, safeties coach Derrick Ainsley, and guards and centers coach Brent Key. Additionally, Mario Cristobal has moved from coaching the offensive line to handling tackles and tight ends. Bobby Williams, who was tight ends coach and special teams coordinator, has left the field for an administrative position. Burton Burns, who coaches running backs, will take over the special teams coordinator task.
“All are getting inundated into what is expected of them, what the standard is around here,” Saban said. “We’re excited about all those people can contribute at new positions.
“A lot of people to replace; that's what makes it fun when you lose 25 per cent of your team every year. It's new opportunity for a lot people and roles that other people sort of have to take on the team.”
In addition to Jennings, the new enrollees are junior offensive lineman Charles Baldwin, linebacker Christian Bell, tight end Miller Forristall, quarterback Jalen Hurts, offensive lineman Chris Owens, wide receiver T.J. Simmons and offensive lineman Jonah Williams.
Alabama will not have its second practice until March 21 as Crimson Tide players join their University classmates on spring break.
Saban said, “When we have Easter fall into our spring practice calendar, we don't practice the Saturday before Easter so the players can go home. So we move that practice to a day ahead and it just happened to be this year that it was right before spring break. This has happened on several occasions before. I think it really does more good than harm because players really understand a lot about what they need to do to get through practice, the kind of condition they need to be in, and maybe how they eat a little bit better while they're away.”
The 15th and final practice of spring training will be the A-Day Game on April 16.
One player who is on the spring roster, but whose status has not changed since he was suspended prior to the College Football Playoff semifinal game, is cornerback Tony Brown.
Saban took only a few questions from reporters because the Tide head coach had to hustle to another field – the Sewell-Thomas Baseball Stadium. Saban threw out the first ball as Bama was hosting Houston.
He was asked about the maturity in the past year of redshirt freshman quarterback Blake Barnett. “It’s hard to answer that question after just one practice,” Saban said. “It’ll be interesting to see how all these young guys – we’ve got three young quarterbacks that all are going to have an opportunity this spring to compete at a position that maturity is a very important factor. Blake had some ups and downs last year with some injuries and illness and things that probably held him back a little bit. So we’re all kind of anxious to see how he matures and how he does this spring.”