This just in: 2017 Alabama football is “not an elite team right now.” But that’s okay, according to the man who made that assessment, Bama Coach Nick Saban.
“My assessment of the spring is I don’t think we’re an elite team right now,” Saban told media covering the 2017 A-Day game shortly after its completion Saturday. “I think we’re kind of an adequate team, but I don’t mean that in a negative way, because I think we’ve come out of spring a lot of years where we didn’t have an elite team.
“It’s how the team responds through the summer, through fall camp, because we’re going to play an elite team (Florida State) in the first game. What kind of commitment each guy makes to being an elite player, to affect himself in a positive way, to affect his unit in a positive way is going to determine how we all affect our team in a positive way which ultimately will lead to what kind of team we really have.”
All in all, Saban felt the 27-24 Crimson win was good for all concernced.
“I think there was a lot of situations in this game today that are great teaching situations,’ he said. “At the end of the game, the White team had the game won, and got a targeting foul (on Ronnie Harrison against Calvin Ridley). That’s not necessary. The other team gets another chance, takes advantage of it, kicks a field goal (by JK Scott) and wins the game.
“There’s a lot of lessons to be learned from a game management standpoint. That’s one of the reasons I like to have games like this where it’s very competitive between the players. The good guys are playing against the good guys, and the twos are playing against the twos. I think a lot of the young players did a good job today, and I think they’ll gain a lot from the experience they had, whether it’s Tua (Tagovailoa) at quarterback, Jerry Jeudy at wide receiver, (linebacker) Dylan Moses, (running back) Najee Harris, or whoever it might have been. (Freshman back) Brian Robinson had a good spring.”
“I think it was good that we made some big plays on offense,” he added. “It’s of some concern when you’re playing against yourself that, at times, people were in position to make plays on the ball and didn’t make them, and we’ve got to do a better job on defense with the 50-50 ball, or that’s going to be an issue with us in the future. Lot of things to work on, a lot of things to improve on, and some things that got exposed today that maybe we didn’t see the rest of the spring.
“All in all, I think we had a lot of young players make a lot of progress in the spring. I think it’s a little more difficult for some of the more experienced guys in spring practice to maintain the mindset and the sense of urgency that you’d like for them to. We’ll see how they respond to that in the fall.”
Jeudy (134 yards on 5 grabs for 2 TDs and winner of the Dixie Howell MVP Award) has caught Saban’s eye all spring. “He’s improved well, and he had a good day today,” Saban noted. “We obviously need some young guys to come through for us at receiver. That’s not a position where we have a lot of depth. Calvin Ridley (4 catches, 102 yards, 1 TD) is a special player at that position. Robert Foster (115 yards on 2 catches and a score) had a good spring, but we need some young players like Jerry Jeudy to continue to grow and develop, and he made significant progress throughout the spring, and I think it culminated in a pretty productive day for him today.”
Saban said he was happy with the quarterback play on both sides, as starters Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts both had over 300 yards through the air.
“Tua’s played well in all the scrimmages,” Saban said, confirming rumors of same. “He had two series with the ones where he went three-and-out, so that’s not really what we’d like to see.
“There was a lot of production. I think all of our quarterbacks are better passers than (the personnel of) a year ago. First, second and third team (Mac Jones). I think that was encouraging. It was good that we threw the ball a little more efficiently, and we made some explosive plays in the passing game which I think is very, very important to being successful on offense.
“We were playing against each other, so whenever we completed a (big pass) I was happy for the guy who completed it, but I was saying, ‘Why did the defensive guy let him complete it?’ Since we were playing against each other, I had mixed emotions.”
Regarding Hurts’ spring, Saban was happy with what he saw in the 15 allotted workouts regarding his performance, especially the sophomore’s pocket presence. “I think it was better,” Saban said. “I think that at the end of the scrimmage, when he had an opportunity where he had to make plays, whether he scrambled on a play which he did (against LSU and Clemson) to give us an opportunity to win, those things are still important, but I thought (Hurts’) ability to stand in the pocket, be a pocket passer and throw the ball on time and accurately was much improved. That was one of the goals in the spring, and it will be something we continue to work on.”
Saban said that despite who started with the first team units Saturday, his offensive line is far from settled. “Look,” he said. “Competition is healthy for your team. I know it’s really significant to (the media’s) job that you know who the first team is and who the second team is, but it really isn’t significant to my job at all.
“What’s significant to my job is to have guys keep competing. Iron sharpens iron, so good guys competing against good guys making each other better so that we’ve got more guys that can play winning football. That’s what’s important to me.
“Right now, I might say we probably have four offensive lineman, and I’m not going to say who, that can play winning football. We probably have another four that have the potential to play winning football, that may not be where they need to be. We’re going to play the best five guys that give us the best chance (to win). Football’s a developmental game, so players need the opportunity to develop before we get to the results. Do we have five starters etched in stone? No. Do we have starters etched in stone at every position? No. There’s competition at positons, and if somebody’s a better player that gives us a better chance to win, we’re going to play the guy. We’ve always done that.”
Saturday’s starters left to right were Jonah Williams, Ross Pierschbaker, Bradley Bozeman, Lester Cotton and Matt Womack.
Video by A.P. Steadham