Although Alabama’s opening game is over two weeks away when the Crimson Tide meets Southern Cal on Sept. 3 in Arlington, Texas, this is a very big week for Bama football.
First of all, classes began at The University Wednesday, putting the Tide on a slightly different schedule with no more two-a-day practices.
Second, is THE second – the second and final scrimmage of preseason practice. It will be Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Although the scrimmage is important to every player, it is particularly significant for those players where positions are up in the air. And it is critical for those vying for the most important position of all, quarterback.
Alabama Coach Nick Saban talked about the quarterback competitors – junior Cooper Bateman, redshirt freshman Blake Barnett, freshman Jalen Hurts, and perhaps after his foot injury allows him to get back in regular practice rotation sophomore David Cornwell.
Saban didn’t mention any of the candidates specifically. He said, “I think consistency is what’s going to be the key to the drill for those guys. I think each one of those quarterbacks are capable of being really good players. I really do believe that. Some have a little more experience than others. But it’s going to come down to consistency in performance – taking care of the football, taking what the defense gives, consistent decision-making, showing good judgment, leadership, how does the team perform when you’re in the game, and how do you affect that with your command and leadership.
“All these things are really, really important. It was a tough day to throw it Saturday (last week’s first scrimmage) because we got that torrential rain, but the guys actually played better as the scrimmage went on. It’ll be really, really interesting to see how they respond this week.”
Saban is aware that the quarterback candidates (as well as many other players) are under pressure, but pressure will be a part of the 2016 season, too.
He said, “Sometimes guys put pressure on themselves. That anxiety creates not a good situation for them. When people get outcome-oriented – I think there was an article in the New York Times a couple days ago – when people get outcome-oriented and goal-oriented based on outcomes, it creates a tremendous amount of anxiety and it doesn’t help performance. We certainly don’t want this with these guys.
“If they would just focus on every play what their job is and what they’re supposed to do, try to get the best execution on that play, learn from the good and bad of that play and move on to the next play, I think that’s going to give them the best opportunity to play their best and give us the best opportunity to have success offensively.”
Generally speaking, Saban said the emphasis in practice leading up to the scrimmage is on improvement. Players watched the film of last Saturday’s scrimmage. Saban said that tape showed “areas we could improve in. I don’t think we played with the kind of effort...I don’t think we finished plays the way we should.
“We did some really good things in the scrimmage, but some of these things were sort of attitude things that are developed because you develop the right things in practice.
“When it comes to effort and attitude, these are not God-given gifts. Talent is a God-given gift. We’ve had lots of teams here that have talent, but those who adopt the competitive attitude and habits and commit to the standard and the way we do things here are the ones who have succeeded, and those who have not done that have not always fared so well.
“I think from an individual standpoint, when the team has success, everybody gets more accolades, everybody gets more attention, everybody gets more opportunities, and I think when guys focus on what they need to do play-in and play-out they have a better chance to do that as well.
“So that’s what we’ve tried to focus on this week and I think the players have responded to it very well and I think we’ve made some improvement.
“We continue to do things that we want to do to develop our team. We work on a different opponent each day in practice and focus on fundamentals and techniques and try to develop some confidence especially in some of our younger players to see if they can contribute to the team and make a contribution to the team.
“That’s going to be the focus for the next three practices so we can get those guys hopefully ready to make a final evaluation in the scrimmage as to who can help us and who we need to invest our time in to try to improve, what role they are going to have on special teams. All these things are sort of in the balance taking what they do in practice relative to what they do in the scrimmage and see what happens.”