Stuart McNair

Alabama has a new challenge in preparing for Western Kentucky

After some sluggish work, Alabama shows more energy and enthusiasm

Here’s what a 52-6 game can do. At USC, which was the 6 in last Saturday’s season-opener in Arlington, Texas, was in the news because the Trojans had some fisticuffs in practice this week. On the 52 side, Alabama, Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban was happy to see more “energy and enthusiasm” in Wednesday’s practice.

“We had a better practice today,” Saban said. “I thought the energy and enthusiasm was a little bit better. We've been a little sluggish for a couple days this week and we certainly need to pick up the tempo. The team did a better job of that today.”

On the opening weekend of the college football season, Alabama was in one of the most high profile games, the traditional bluebloods of college football pairing off in what turned into an easy win for Bama. The result is that the Crimson Tide is solidly ranked number one in college football polls this week.

This week Bama will not be playing a high profile game. Alabama will host Western Kentucky in Bryant-Denny Stadium, and most consider that something of a cupcake game, which is mostly par for the course in the second week of the season. The Crimson Tide will host the Hilltoppers at 2:30 p.m. CDT Saturday with the game televised by ESPN2.

While Alabama was defeating Southern Cal, Western Kentucky was also having a good opener, downing Rice, 46-14. That has the attention of Saban, and he wants his team to pay attention.

Following Wednesday’s practice, Saban said, “ I think as you look at college football and you see teams that get upset early in the season, it's probably because they don't have the proper respect for their opponent. In this case, this was a top-25 team a year ago and no reason they won't be a top-25 this year once it's all said and done.

“I think our players need to understand that how you play in games like this, if things don't go well, that's basically what you get remembered by. They'll be asking you 20 years from now 'How'd you guys lose that game?'

"It's all about improving. It's all about playing to a standard. It's all about challenging yourself to be the best that you can be. That's something we certainly want to emphasize and have emphasized with our players and they seem to be responding fairly well.”

Saban also has an assignment for Alabama fans.

"We're excited to have a home opener in our stadium,” he said. “I know our players are always excited to play in Bryant-Denny. We have great fans. It's a great atmosphere.

“But I think this is another one of those fastball teams that's going to go fast. They're going to mike and check and try to communicate at the line of scrimmage and get signals from the sideline. I really do think it's a huge advantage for our team if their offense has to work against noise and has to go on silent and it helps us with the snap count indicator. I'll be harping about that all week long so hopefully our fans will respond to that.”

Saban also reported that freshman defensive lineman Raekwon Davis, a 6-7, 325-pound defensive lineman, had been given academic clearance and will move from mostly scout team work to perhaps being able to participate this season.

He said there were no new injuries this week and that wide receiver Cam Sims, who was injured against USC, “did a few things in practice, but is still questionable” for this week.

He added that offensive guard Alphonse Taylor had completed his one-game suspension and “will be ready to play in this game.”

 In a brief but interesting question and answer period Saban touched on interesting topics. They were:

What were your impressions of (outside linebackers) Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson in the first game and how do you balance wanting to increase their snaps with wanting to maintain their rate of productivity?

"Hopefully their productivity will go up with their number of snaps. I thought Ryan played well in the game. I thought Tim played well in the game. [Williams] didn't have as many opportunities, but Ryan really played well in the game. He was pretty dominant. Got some pressures on the quarterback. I think it's important, as I talked about before, especially on third down pass rushers, that they can be fresh on third down. So that means on the other downs in the game we need to have some people that can play those downs. And that's what we're going to try and do. Hopefully we can rotate enough guys in there to keep those guys fresh. Same thing with the defensive line. I think it's important for all those guys that we create enough roles for players that we can keep those guys fresh throughout the game."

We've got a plan that is maybe a little bit more tailored to the two guys that played last week."

How much has (outside linebacker) Anfernee Jennings come along and what are his strengths?

"I thought he did a nice job in the game. I think it was valuable for him to get some playing time. We really feel like Anfernee can be a good player for us and that's one of the guys we want to play in there some for Tim and Ryan, to help them out. He did a good job last week. He's a physical player, has good size, can play at the point, and he has some pass rush ability. All those things are things we can certainly use in regular downs and in nickel."

 How did you think (cornerback) Anthony Averett did in his first start?

"He did a good job. We worked this week on playing the ball a little bit better in the deep part of the field. He's got really good ball skills and good ball judgment so there's no reason for him not to do that. I think guys get a little anxious in those situations, but then we have a couple other guys who can play the ball in the deep part of the field a little better, too. That's always a point of emphasis. The big things in the secondary are can we judge the ball, can we tackle well, and can we play man-to-man. So those are the three things we really focus on with our guys and I thought he did a pretty good job with the man-to-man and he did a pretty good job of tackling. Just got to play the ball in the air a little bit better and I would say that's true for all the guys."

 You've said the quarterback system is for now. WKU gave up a lot of rushing yards to a quarterback last week. Does that influence who you start?

"No. I'm going to start who's best for our team, who can do the best job for our team, who did the best job in practice this week. We're pleased with the way both guys are progressing and what they've done this week.

And the fun one:

Since you've dictated that the quarterbacks will be in charge of the offense, how have you seen leadership in quarterbacks progress in the last week or so?

"I don't like the word dictate. I'm not a dictator. We make team decisions here. Everybody has input. We take all that input in and then we make a decision. It's not a democracy but it's not a dictatorship, just to be clear (smiling).

“I think the team has responded well to both guys. We're excited about trying to develop a productive offensive team based on the skill set of the players that we have, which I think Lane (Lane Kiffin, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach) has done a really good job of in the past, because we've had really different quarterbacks now two, three years in a row with very little experience. We're just going to keep on keeping on and it'll be interesting to see how these guys continue to respond and play in the game."

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