"Obviously we're excited about the opportunity to get started with our football team," Alabama Coach Nick Saban said. "This will be the first opportunity we've had to have actually get on the field and coach football, even though we've had five weeks of the off-season program." He said that program had been "a very good process."
Saban has consistently promoted the necessity of various intangibles as "very important to building our team," and said the off-season work was helpful in establishing those intangibles in the minds of the players. He listed them as "Discipline, effort, toughness, conditioning, and the ability to sustain." A few minutes later he reiterated them, and added "Ability to do your job, be responsible for your own self-determination, know what is expected of you and be able to see it through."
Saban is careful to withhold evaluations and predictions. Still, there are goals in the spring, the teaching of those intangibles being foremost among them.
He said a second goal is to instill "knowledge and experience" of the offensive, defensive and special teams systems. Saban said, "It will be our goal to have a certain installation schedule that we want to stick to and accomplish in the spring. That will be judged to some degree on how how we can grasp things as we go. We don't want to create confusion for the players, but yet we believe in the whole-part-whole theory of teaching. Give them as much as you can and go over it again and again and again and hopefully you're going to get it over time. You won't get perfect execution immediately. The players will continue to build on the process of learning what we expect from them."
Saban said the system provides the capacity for numerous schemes. "It's not all or nothing," he said when asked if the players fit the scheme or the scheme fit the players. "The system we have always tried to create offensively, defensively, and on special teams is pretty comprehensive and all-inclusive in terms of being able to do different things, different personnel groups we can use, different plays we can run, so that we can take a lot of different types of players and feature them in the system. Interchangeable parts. That's a part of the system. Once you make some evaluations of the types of players you have and what the players you have do best, perhaps starting with what the quarterback does best, then the team is going to start to develop the personality of what the players are best suited to do. The system has multiples and you take the multiples that best feature the players you have."
A time for evaluation of players will come, though not necessarily one to develop a depth chart. Saban said, "It's going to be important to get to know and evaluate to some degree what players can do. It's important how we feature players, how we use players. That's not something we've been able to do. We're not trying to make evaluations based on what they have done in the past, but more relative to what our expectations are for what they can do in the future.
"At some point you have to decide how to get the best players on the field. Some of those assessments will be made as a work in progress through the spring. We may feel we will have to move a player or two, but we haven't made those determinations yet because we haven't see the players."
Saban will be careful in moving players. "Want to have our best players on the field, but we also don't want to put a player on the field where he doesn't want to be," Saban said. "I think that's important to motivation. But my sense of it so far is that the players here are interested in doing what is best for the team."
Saban took a general look at the needs of the team. "We have some obvious areas where we are going to have to make significant improvement relative to numbers...quality of players, sometimes size, sometimes experience," he said. By way of example, he said, "The (defensive) front seven limited in numbers, size and experience. That will be a major concern. No specific players, but those are areas where we are going to have to work hard to improve the players we have and where we might have to look at areas on the team where we have more players than we need. That's a process we would go through after spring practice."
He said the "depth chart" is for administrative purposes only. "It's open," he said. "Everyone has an opportunity to compete. We're not evaluating right now. We're process-oriented in what we're trying to build. The starting point of the depth chart is not nearly as important as the end point. They all have the opportunity to compete, which they have done in the off-season program and which they'll continue to do in spring practice. Our goal is to get the best players on the field and our goal is to give them the best opportunity to be evaluated on the field."
Saban said, "It's an on-going process. We're going to have to have changes in the starters from the first game to the second game, from the fifth game to the seventh game. We've got a lot of work to do, a lot of improvement to make. Hopefully, we'll continue to improve between the 11th and 12th games next year. We'll add young players who will contribute. We'll continue to build and it's going to be everyone's responsibility to do his part in terms of being responsible to keep his job. Just because someone had a job in the past doesn't mean he'll have a job in the future. They have responsibilities relative to behavior, academics, execution off the field, a lot of different areas. Everyone has to prove he is responsible and dependable."
In a normal spring, he said, a third goal would involve introducing the team to schemes or systems of future opponents. Saban said, "This goal is going to be a little more difficult to accomplish" because the bulk of time this spring will be spent getting Bama players familiar with the Alabama system.
Saban considers the big picture as a spring goal. He said, "Consistency and performance is what is going to help us be successful. To the degree we can get consistency and performance in what we want to do in terms of our execution is what is going to help us establish more consistency and performance in the future, which is going to enable us to have more success as a team. How far we get in that area determines if we have a successful spring.
"We're building a program. It's a work in progress. We're trying to build every aspect of the program...off-season, academic support. We're trying to provide the leadership.
"It will be a successful spring if we can get every player playing to his full potential. Our goal as coaches -- teachers -- is that every player if we can get him to play the best football he is capable of playing, that's going to give us the best opportunity to be most successful as a team. Can we get that done in 15 days? That's pretty aggressive thinking. That's how we'll evaluate ourselves after spring."
There are 15 spring practice days spread over four weeks, all but the last practice closed to the public. Spring training ends with A-Day at Bryant-Denny Stadium at 1 p.m. CDT Saturday, April 21.
Saban said, "It's very difficult to ever separate mental toughness, focus, mental processing, knowledge, experience. You have to know what to do and how to do it and why is it important to do it. Some of that is physical, but a lot of it is mental. We want an expanded capacity for our players mentally and physically."
He said, "What we try to do every day is be positive about what we need to do to make things better. There needs to be a great emphasis on what we need to do in the future to create awareness in players that this is important and there is a consequence if we can't do it. It's going to affect our ability to be successful. Everyone wants to be successful, but does everyone know what we need to do to be successful -- the commitment, the work, the mental processing -- so we can have the consistency and performance we need?"