"You can bet they'll be holding back on something. As a player, that gives you confidence."
At Alabama, 3-8 records are not ‘built' overnight. And the truth is that a lot of things went wrong and numerous factors contributed to the team's collapse. But except for the Ole Miss game, the Tide offense never seemed to get on track. And confidence is as good a place to start as any.
Explained junior Ahmaad Galloway; "Last year when we lost, it was more ‘Who would have thought?' Then things started piling up in a hurry. The players are upset about last year.
"But now we know it can happen. We don't take anything lightly now. Folks last year kind of thought 'We lost the opener, but that might have been a fluke.' We're not going to take Arkansas lightly."
Jones agreed; "We played OK against Arkansas last year, but this year we're just hungry--even more than last year. We wanted it last year, but this year we're a whole lot more hungry.
"They beat us last year off a little fluke play with too many players on the field. We just want to go out there and win. We got our first win against Vandy in what, six games? (This week) we're going to try and make it two straight."
Determination versus over-confidence is one key change cited by the two Tide veterans. But the differences run deeper. Last year's offensive staff promised a wide-open, spread-the-field attack--but delivered significantly less. "I think our offense this season is more varied," Galloway stated. "Once we get everything worked out, we've got plays we can go deep. And we can take the ball and pound it down people's throat."
Though he's reluctant to accept the designation of ‘offensive veteran,' Galloway started seven of 11 games at tailback last year for the Tide. And the Tennessee native is a solid No. 1 this season as well. "I don't know about comparing running back this year to last," he said. "Our personnel isn't the same; we actually lost one guy (Brandon Miree). But I'm a year older.
"I'm actually a lot more confident. I'm not looking over my shoulder constantly wondering if they're going to take me out. I'm not worrying about some 70/30 mix of playing time."
At tight end Jones is entering his fourth season as a starter. "I'm a better player," he acknowledged. "But the main reason we're better is Theo Sanders (backup tight end). He's more mature and is playing well. The coaches have really helped his confidence."
But beyond personnel changes, the players see another more crucial difference. "Most importantly is that offensively we're all on the same page now," Galloway explained. "There were too many decisions to be made last year. At running back we're able to go out and be free--just go out and make plays. Last year I think we had a lot of reins on us. I don't think we had the opportunity to make plays."
Jones elaborated; "These coaches are working with everybody. They're trying to spread the ball around. Last year we would just try to get the ball to certain people, because they were our playmakers. Later, when the defense would key on those guys, the coaches would try and go back to other people. But it was too late then."
Game performance requires more than just athletic ability. Jones believes it's also important to get into a proper rhythm. "You've got to be used to getting the ball in the game. If you're not, then you can drop passes. You're not used to catching the ball in a crowd."
Returning to the subject of coaching and developing schemes, the players believe that Bama's 2001 offense is much more deceptive. "We don't have so many obvious tendencies," Jones related. "This year we have a variety on offense. We spread it around. We've got different plays designed for different people.
"Last year we had a whole lot of tendencies. Before the play started, I could just look at our formation and know what we were going to run. This year you really can't tell. A few plays are obvious, but not anywhere near as many as there were last year."
As Jones pointed out, it didn't take a genius to decipher last year's offense. Too often a quick glance at formations and personnel would yield an accurate prediction of what play was to come, allowing defenses to pin their ears back and get after it.
An unwillingness to adjust and quickly move on to some other plan crippled the Tide. And the result was a talented but mostly ineffective unit that ended up ranked 100th in the nation in total offense.
But the players firmly believe this year is different. Said Galloway; "When things don't go right, this staff just addresses the problem. They don't point fingers. If something isn't working, then they'll go to something else.
"Last year we got set in our ways. I don't like to talk about it! I'm sorry, but MAN! It gets me mad talking about last year."
Galloway's justifiable anger arises from personal problems with individuals on last year's coaching staff as much as anything else. But even though he didn't experience the same trouble from his position coach, Jones agrees with his teammate's assessment. "This staff won't be hardheaded like the last coaches. Last year they had what they wanted to do--no matter what. But this staff sees if something isn't working, and then they go to something else."
And that willingness to make a change also extends to personnel. Jones explained; "These guys are 'real.' If you go out there and miss a block, they're going to tell you that you blew a block. Then they'll tell you how to correct it.
"Last year's staff would beat around the bush some--except for one or two coaches. But all these coaches are going to be real with you. If you go out there and mess up, then that's what they're going to tell you."
It all comes back to Franchione's basic precepts: trust and individual accountability. "These coaches will tell you ‘You've got to do better, or we're going to put somebody else in the game,'" Jones said. "It's different. They almost treat it like it's the NFL. They're almost like a business, and I guess it is. This is their job."