It’s judgment day for Alabama football players. What that means, Alabama Coach Nick Saban explained following Thursday’s practice, is that just over a week out from the season opener, a decision must be made on which players “who we’re going to coach and what we’re going to do, and we need to make some of those decisions because we actually start preparation for USC [Friday]. We’re going to have to pick the guys we’re going to have to get ready to play the game and how we rep them and how we get guys to have roles, whether it’s on special teams, offense, or defense.”
But maybe not quarterback. Not yet.
“I know the only one you guys care to talk about is probably quarterback,” Saban said. “It is what it is. We shared the reps with the guys, we tried to give guys a little bit more rhythm in terms of the number of reps they got to see how they respond to it. As of right now, no decision has been made on anyone in particular. We're going to continue to do that until somebody sort of takes the bull by the horns and does what we think he needs to do to have a chance to play winning football for us on offense. I'm not disappointed at all in the progress that any of the guys have made, but at the same time, no one has really…forged ahead either.”
Saban didn’t mention the quarterbacks by name. Presumably, the race is still among three men – junior Cooper Bateman, redshirt freshman Blake Barnett, and freshman Jalen Hurts. David Cornwell fell out of the competition because he was unable to participate in all drills owing to a summer foot injury.
Alabama, winner of the 2015 national championship and ranked first in all major polls going into the 2016 season, meets Southern Cal a week from Saturday in the Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Kickoff for the Saturday, Sept. 3, game will be at 7 p.m. CDT with ABC televising.
The Tide coach said, “We have a lot of young players that have a chance to contribute to this team this year, so we've really worked hard to focus on some of those guys in terms of development so that they can go out there and play with more confidence and know what they're doing. That's going to certainly be a point of emphasis from here on out in terms of the preparation for the game."
Alabama is expected to release an official depth chart Monday, but Saban has said many times that a depth chart is only good for one day. As for those players who don’t make the initial two-deep, Saban said “it’s not hard at all” for them to get back in the competition. He explained that all players are taking part in practice each day and being watched on videotape. He also pointed out that they will be involved in scout team work, which means they will be practicing against Alabama’s first and second team defensive players.
Saban said, “Those guys are still in meetings and we're still trying to coach them and still trying to teach them. You just can't rep everybody every day. You have to kind of take two teams and the guys that have a role and rep those particular guys, but you're also trying to bring along the other guys and we do that. We try to get some of those players in there and develop them.
“Because if you lose players throughout the season, some of those guys are going to move up so you'd like for them to be ready to do that, have a better understanding of what they need to do and that they've made some fundamental improvement by practicing against the other team. But when it comes to rep for the game plan, you can only do so many guys."
Alabama had its second and final scrimmage of fall camp last Saturday and Bama players were given Sunday and Monday off, their first off days since beginning preseason practice on Aug. 4.
Saban said, "After a little bit of a slow start to the week after having two days off, the players have really responded well the last couple of practices. We had really good practice, really good energy, really good enthusiasm. I think we made some improvement in terms of our execution because of that.
“We're still focusing a lot on attention to detail and guys doing the little things right in terms of penalties, especially the undisciplined type. False starts on offense, offsides on defense, the kind that are sort of the unforced errors if you were playing tennis. Those are the kinds of things we really have to focus on and clean up and get a little better execution on both sides of the ball.”
Saban said Alabama is in good shape from an injury standpoint. Alphonse Taylor, battling to regain his 2015 starting job at right guard, “is the only guy who hasn’t practiced,” Saban said. “He’s day-to-day, missed the last two days, but not anything that's serious, so we hope to get him back soon. So his status for the game has still not been determined from my standpoint anyway. Everybody else is out there practicing. Dalvin Tomlinson has been back all week and practiced really well.”