When Nick Saban began his first Alabama spring football drills 10 years ago, we learned that for the first time in Crimson Tide history, reporters would not be allowed to watch Bama football practices.
Later we were speaking to a group of Crimson Tide supporters and, as always, we were taking questions. One Bama fan said that he had a comment and a question.
“First of all,” he began, “I’m glad that Coach Saban is keeping reporters out of practice. My question is ‘How is John Parker Wilson looking at quarterback?’”
Our answer was, “How the hell should I know? Coach Saban doesn’t let me watch practice.”
Four national championships later, no one questions how Nick Saban runs his football program, including his continued policy on keeping reporters out of practice.
The good news is that Saban is quite forthcoming when it comes to providing information. Now, that doesn’t extend to allowing his staff to report the passing statistics of quarterbacks in practices. His valid point (as if he needed one) is that all quarterbacks are given an equal share of repetitions, but not all of those repetitions are equally fair. The quarterback working with the second offense against the first defense is not having the same opportunity as the quarterback working with the first offense against the second defense.
Following Saturday’s second scrimmage of the spring (closed to reporters, no quarterback statistics issued), Saban spoke of something he had heard from former NFL Coach Tony Dungy at Alabama’s annual spring clinic for high school coaches. Saban said he shared Dungy’s message (Dungy credited Chuck Noll with the thought) with his players, “that champions don’t have to do extraordinary things; they just have to do ordinary things extraordinarily.”
Saban said, “I think that really speaks a lot about the scrimmage that we had today, the spring practice as a whole.
“We have a lot of guys that need to learn how to play winning football – which is really taking care of the ordinary things well. Things like take care of the ball, discipline not to get penalties, don’t have mental errors, be able to go out there and do your job well. I think this is part of the reason that our twos (second team players) … They’re trying to make plays and they don’t play with a lot of discipline, which affects their ability to go out there and do their job like they need to.
“This is the goal for the rest of this spring: to get more and more guys that can play winning football.
“There are six to 12 plays in every game that have a tremendous impact on the game. The problem is that you never know when those plays are coming up. So you’ve got to play with consistency, you’ve got to have great focus and intensity on every play. You’ve got to do your job. You never know when the five plays that you’ve got to make are coming up – but you’ve got to be in position when they do.
“That’s something, that consistency in performance, that focus to be able to execute, is something that more of our players need to learn how to do on a consistent basis.”
Which led to discussion of the quarterbacks, though not much in the say of specifics.
“I thought all the quarterbacks today did some good things, made some plays,” Saban said. “Nobody that I can say stood out, but made some good plays.”
Following the first scrimmage, a week earlier, Saban said that the most experienced quarterbacks, fourth-year junior Cooper Bateman and third-year sophomore David Cornwell, had been the most consistent. The less experienced are redshirt freshman Blake Barnett and true freshman and spring semester enrollee Jalen Hurts.
Saban said, “I think that what you look at it is how do they move the team? Not just their stats or completions and all that kind of stuff. How did they move the team?
“I think Cooper moved the team a lot. I think Jalen Hurts did a nice job today and David Cornwell did a pretty good job.
“I think there’s still a lot of competition with these positions.
“Taking care of the ball is a big thing. I don’t know how many times you’ve heard me say it before, if every series on offense ends with a kick, whether it’s a punt, field goal or an extra point, we’re okay with that. But giving the ball to the other guys, throwing interceptions, making bad decisions…the game we lost last year we turned it over five times. That’s probably the single statistic that determines winning and losing.
“The quarterback handles the ball every time so…some of these guys trying to make plays, trying to do extraordinary things on the play rather than just executing the play, they force it and we had too many turnovers. Who can move the team the best and take care of the ball is the guy that will come out on top.”