Bama Football Practice Begins

Alabama begins fall camp today, though it won't seem much like fall. The temperature in Tuscaloosa is expected to be around 100. There will also be a little twist to the first day as the squad will be divided in half with one group working in the afternoon, another (with all new freshmen included) working in the evening.

In his pre-practice press briefing Thursday, Alabama Coach Nick Saban said the squad division is used only on the first day.. Although the newcomers will be in the group practicing in the evening, that second practice squad will also include some older players so there will be a two-deep for both workouts. There will be an approximate 50-50 split of the 105 reporting players.

Saban pointed out that "The first couple of days of practice can be really trying for these (new) guys. They don't know much about anything. They don't know where their position goes to work out. They don't know what the drills are when they get there. They don't know really a whole lot about the mental part of what we're trying to teach them. So it's always been my disposition to take the younger the coaches can actually focus on those particular players. And I always like to do it at least one practice so you can take all the young guys and teach them the drills and take a little more time with them. Rather than—they're going to be in the back of the line; they're going to get a lesser amount of attention, and their anxiety level is probably going to dissipate a little bit if they have a chance to get their feet on the ground by getting a little more individual attention, especially in the first practice."

For several years the NCAA allowed newcomers to come in a few days early to get acclimated, but that rule is no longer in effect. Most newcomers, however, have had some opportunity to become accustomed to the environment because they have been in summer school."

Saban added, "We could have done that on Saturday, too, but then we're right up against Sunday, and that's the first time that we would practice as a full squad and we really didn't want to do that. So it's a little more difficult on the coaching staff. It's not any more difficult on the players. They still get their NCAA(-mandated) rest time because it's not the same players practicing twice."

The biggest practice day of the pre-season insofar as fans are concerned is Sunday, although it will be a shorts practice. However, it will be at Bryant-Denny Stadium beginning at 2:30 p.m., and it is the only practice open to the public. Following the practice there will be a window of 45 minutes to an hour in which fans can get autographs.

The first day in which the team is permitted to practice in full gear is Tuesday. Alternate days of two-a-day practices begin Wednesday and continue for about a week. Classes begin August 22.

Alabama opens the season and the Nick Saban Era hosting Western Carolina on September 1. A kickoff time has not been announced.

Saban said, "We're obviously excited about opening fall camp. We're excited about the season. We're excited about the opportunities that we have to work with the players. We have to try to focus on improving and finding out more about our team and answering questions about our team. I think the two things that are really most important that we want to try to figure out about our players or continue to figure out about our players is, A), What is your competitive character? How important is it for you to be good and sustain what you do? And (B), how smart can you play? Those are probably the two things that are most important. And you can talk about a lot of things that are important, but those two things are probably most important when it comes to players because those two things are both critical in a guy being able to play winning football.

"From a team standpoint, we want to continue to develop our opportunity to be a team, have togetherness, develop the kind of trust and respect you need to play together as a team, and that obviously takes a lot of positive energy and willingness that guys enjoy being around each other and support each other and can be responsible for their own self-determination in terms of their ability to do their job, to work hard to get in great condition so they can sustain and dominate in the fourth quarter and finish games. Those are the kind of things that we want to continue to try to build but those are also the kind of questions that our team has to prove that we can do.

"Now for the younger players, the freshmen, I think the same thing. Heart, competitive character, whatever you want to call it, is still something that we're trying to evaluate in them but we want to see what their learning curve is. How fast? What kind of maturity do they have in terms of how fast they can learn and show a capacity to improve because the important thing is that we pick the guys that can help us somewhere this season, not whether they can help us today. We haven't even coached them yet. Not even if they could help us in two weeks. But sometimes those guys can make progress and improve because of the kind of people they are and their ability to stay positive, show maturity, not get frustrated, and they'll continue to improve and those kind of guys can help you long term on your team."

The coach said it is no secret that any newcomers who can help in the front seven, at any skill position, and on special teams will be welcome. And he said that building depth at quarterback is important.

"I think some of them can contribute," he said.

Saban also commented on players who were not available for academic reasons (signees Kerry Murphy and Michael Ricks and returnee Jonathan Lowe) and on the injury situation that ended the careers of four Tide players (Tyrone Prothro, Byron Walton, Aaron McDaniel, and Jake Jones) and is delaying the start of work for freshman defensive lineman Nick Gentry.

Players went through physical examinations before starting practice. Saban said the players were measured in areas of strength and endurance, "and there's some kind of a sprint test involved. And the players are given points for how they do on each one of these and then we evaluate the guys that did the best in each one and the guy that did overall the best."

Saban said there would be two scrimmages during fall camp. He said there would be a lot of work on situations. He said it would take "14 or 15" practices for installation of the plan, and continued practice on that plan. But after the installation time would be spent on preparing the team for various situations that are expected to be encountered during the season. He said practices include a "lot of end-of-the-game stuff."

Saban seemed pleased by the new NCAA rule that has kickoffs from the 30-yard line. He pointed out that touchbacks were not meant to be the norm of the game. He said that teams would have more big plays on returns and better "drive starts."

He said that kickoff coverage and kickoff return personnel will be more important with speed particularly at a greater premium.

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