Alabama Coach Nick Saban addressed a variety of topics on Monday’s SEC spring coaches’ teleconference. Some were old, others new.
True freshman tailback Najee Harris impressed a lot of folk during Alabama’s recently-completed spring practice, not the least of which was Saban. “Najee had a great spring,” Saban said. “It was a learning experience both on and off the field. He’s going to be a really good player.
“Passing game-wise and playing without the ball are things he needs to work on.”
Saban was asked about a pair of incoming defensive line recruits who will soon report to Tuscaloosa, Phidarian Mathis and LaBryan Ray. He has high hopes for both a position that seeks depth.
“Both fit the criteria for what we’re looking for to play the five technique and out,” Saban said, referring to the tackle and end positons. “Both (Mathis and Ray) have good size and a good motor.
“Hopefully they can add something (in 2017) from a pass-rush standpoint.”
Reiterating his postgame A-Day remarks, the 11th-year Tide coach said “Lots of young folks made a lot of progress and improvement. We had 16 mid-year (enrollees) here, which is a unique situation for us.
“I don’t think we’re an elite team yet. Probably average, and we don’t want to settle on that.
“We’ve got a lot of development to do over the summer and fall camp. We’ve got some challenges this year, including a tough opening game against a very good Florida State team.”
Saban was asked if all of his 2017 signing class is on track to qualify. “Nobody’s really qualified until they graduate,” he said as he does annually. “Our assumption is that everybody is making the progress they need to be able to qualify.”
The rest of the questions were related to rule changes, real and proposed. On the AFCA proposal to allow true freshmen to play in up to four games without burning a season of eligibility, Saban said he likes it. “I absolutely would be in favor of that (change),” he said with enthusiasm. “One of the most difficult things (for true freshmen) is they can’t play a game for a year (if they redshirt). It would enhance their development, and you might be able to play some more of your players.
“It would help young guys to be able to play and not lose the year. It probably would be a good thing. I think with a guy being having the opportunity to play without being held out for the entire season is better for player development.”
When asked, Saban said the proposal would have helped Ravens first-rounder Marlon Humphrey, who took a redshirt his first year on campus. “I don’t think there’s any question,” he said. “We’d have loved to have played Marlon, and he probably deserved to play some.”
Is Saban in favor of another proposal, to just give all players five full seasons to play? Not really. “I don’t know what the right degree (of games played) is,” he said. “I like the four-game deal better. I don’t know if having a guy play five years is better or not.”
Regarding the recently-passed December signing day, Saban said it could cost late bloomers getting SEC offers. “I do think it’s going to accelerate the recruiting calendar to some degree,” he noted. “We want to make sure we get however many we can take… I think it’s 22 this year.
“I think evaluation is important. The sooner you have to make decisions, the greater opportunity you have to make mistakes. I don’t know that accelerating the calendar is all that good with letting guys visit in the spring. We sort of minimize the opportunity to evaluate guys who are late bloomers.”
Though he’s addressed it ad nauseum before, Saban was asked about the SEC’s graduate transfer rule. His reply: “I don’t think we should have ‘free agency’ in our league. The rule not allowing SEC transfers within the league is a good rule.
“We’ve had a couple of guys transfer within the league. I don’t know how much that benefitted them.”