Saban Looks For Tide Identity

Alabama Coach Nick Saban met with reporters to discuss the state of the Crimson Tide as it prepares for its opening game Saturday. Here is a transcript of that briefing.

Alabama will host Western Carolina in the 2007 season-opener for both teams at 6 p.m. CDT Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The game is sold out, but is available on a pay-per-view basis through cable and satellite systems.

This will be the first game for Alabama with Nick Saban as head coach.

Coach Saban's Monday comments:

"Our players are excited about playing somebody besides themselves. I think we've been through 23 or so practices to this point. Mostly, except for Saturday, in some type of competition against each other. That can get old quickly, so this is another opportunity for our team to learn how we prepare for a game, what we feel is important in our game preparation, as well as the number one thing to me is to establish an identity as a team. How we play, the kind of effort we play with, the kind of toughness we play with, the kind of intensity we maintain throughout the 60 minutes of the game, the kind of relentless competitors that we are, and that's what we'll play the game for – to see where we are in all those areas. That's the opportunity that we have.

"I know that you are going to get a depth chart today, so you all ought to be in a great mood about that, very happy and pleased, but not to rain on your parade, this is where we are today. But there's still competition on our team at several positions, and we actually promote that. We want players to be competitive. We want players to try to increase their role and their playing time relative to how they improve and what they do, and to create opportunities for themselves. They're still going to have opportunities to do that.

"We only have two players that, I think, we question from an injury standpoint: (Jamie) Christensen and Cody Davis are still day-to-day in terms of whether they'll be ready to play in this game. I'd have to say they'd be listed as questionable. I think the other guys, (Baron) Huber and (Brian) Motley, practiced on Saturday to some degree and I would think they are probably for being able to play in the game, although things can change on a daily basis.

"I know you might have questions about captains. What we want to do is promote leadership on our team. That's the most important thing to me. I think sometimes when you elect captains before the season, the team kind of allows those guys to become the leaders and everyone follows them. What we will do is we will announce to the team on every Monday, and I will meet with the team at 2:20 today, who the honorary captains for that particular week. We want to promote leadership on our team with everybody, and everybody who does good things, the right things, affects other people the right way, can be a captain. Again, we're trying to promote leadership, not followers. We're not interested in, ‘OK, here's the design. These guys are leaders and the rest of you are sheep.' That's not what we're trying to do. I think we want to enhance leadership on our team from as many individual players as we possibly can, and you don't have to be a senior to be a leader. We have some very good leaders here. We have some very good leaders who are seniors and some very good leaders who are underclassmen. The emphasis is on leadership, not on who the captains are. After the season we'll decide who the captains should be for this season.

"Western Carolina is obviously a team that has 14 starters back. They have a new offensive coordinator who does the spread, no-huddle offense that will be a challenge for our defense to get ready for. It will be a little different than what we've been working against. (On defense) They play a 4-3 and a 3-4, 3-3 stack on defense. Their players play hard. They are very competitive. We have respect for every opponent that we play, but I think in this game it's more important who we are and establishing who we are as a team, and that's going to be the focus of what we try to do. They have some good skill players, they have a couple of quarterbacks who are very good players, they've got a very good cornerback on their team. So, they've got good players. Everybody's got good players. Our focus about what we want to do is about who we are and what we are trying to establish and accomplish in this particular game.

"There are two players who will not participate in this game. They are - call it what you will – suspended for violation of team policies. I know this will be hard for you but I am going to tell you who the two players are. They violated team rules and policies. They are suspended for one game, and that's all I am going to say about it. Now, I'll bet anybody in here that somebody's going to ask me about it. Now, let's bet now because then I want the cash when I leave."

(Editor's Note: No one asked.)

"Again, when we have these issues, these issues are internal. They are handled internally. The players have some right to privacy about family issues and we're not going to violate that. I would appreciate it from your standpoint if you would respect that. Because you can go about trying to find out whatever it is some other kind of way and all that, and I don't think young people who we are trying to help educate, support, help be successful, these particular players have reached a phase where punishment – taking away a game from them – we feel is necessary to do at this time. And the two players are Prince Hall and Keith Brown. So, it's a one-game deal and if their behavior is good in the future they won't have any other consequences. Now, I'm going to say it again: that's all I'm saying about that."

Question - Is there such a thing as first game jitters and how do you keep the guys from going too crazy for the first game of the season?

COACH SABAN: "I think you want the players to be emotional but, at the same time, we've always tried to promote character, attitude and identity in players so that they focus on the things they need to do to be successful. It doesn't really matter who they're playing against, they're going to have a focus and a business-like approach to what they do because they know that's what is going to help them execute and be successful. To get emotional creates a lot of highs and lows in what you do. We want a certain amount of intensity, we want a certain sense of urgency, we want to play with a certain level of intensity, but I don't want them to get too emotional because I don't want that to affect their performance and the consistency of our performance. So we'll take a business-like approach to this, get the players ready to play. They should be excited to play. This is a great place to play. We have great fans, great support. I'm excited about getting ready to play. They should be excited about it, but it's a controlled emotion, a controlled enthusiasm that helps you go out there and play with the kind of character and attitude that you want to compete with."

Question – Who will step in at middle linebacker to take those reps now?

COACH SABAN: "They've been taking the reps. Rolando (McClain)'s been taking reps at Mike. It'll be on the depth chart when you get it. Prince (Hall) has been running with the 2's and 3's and Keith Brown has been with the 2's and the 3's throughout fall camp. Those things will be indicated on the depth chart how we go into this game, and it will be up to those players to get in competition for their position when they come back."

Question – When you talk about these suspensions, you seem to have plenty of depth at receiver. Could you talk about that kind of depth at that position?

COACH SABAN: "We probably have as much depth at receiver as at any position on our team. We probably have as little depth at linebacker as at any position on our team. So it gives someone else an opportunity to show what they can do when these circumstances arise, whether it's injury or any reason someone doesn't play in a game, someone else gets an opportunity, someone else gets a chance to go out and play. Certainly in this case several players are going to get an opportunity to play, but Matt Caddell's had a really good camp. DJ (Hall)'s had a really good camp. We've had a lot of receivers that have done well in camp, so we‘re looking forward to seeing how they do when they get an opportunity in the game."

Question – Would you like to get a second quarterback in against Western Carolina to get some game experience behind (starter) John Parker Wilson?

COACH SABAN: "I think what we're interested in is getting our best players playing well together, and we're not going to assume anything, and we're not going to plan for anything like that because I want to see our guys play well. We're going to play for 60 minutes in the game, and we're going to coach the players for 60 minutes in the game, and every player that gets an opportunity to play in the game knows that he's going to get coached to do that. We expect his best performance and best effort, regardless of the circumstances in the game. So, that's how we will go about doing that."

Question – With Rolando (McClain) being a true freshman, how confident are you in his ability to step in and handle his position (linebacker) and call signals and such?

COACH SABAN: "Well, he's done a good job and he's earned the position that he's in. So, regardless of how confident we are, I have confidence in him as a young man. He is a freshman. It will be a great experience for him. He's taken advantage of his opportunity. He's worked hard and he's earned the position that he's in. So, regardless of where he is, he's the best player we have to do this right now. We have faith, trust and confidence in him, and some of the other players will help support him in some of the signal caller role. We're happy with where he is. We know that there's a lot of room for improvement and I know this game experience will help him with his knowledge and experience so that he gets what he needs to be able to improve."

Question – As far as the installation of this defense, are you where you wanted to be? When you left Miami, the story was that the defense was too complicated for some of those players in the NFL. Was it too complicated for these guys? And, how did they pick it up?

COACH SABAN: "Well, last year we had the fourth-best defense in the NFL (at Miami in 2006). If I thought it was too complicated we wouldn't do it. So, I don't think it's too complicated. We've had a lot of success running the defense. We won't do what players can't do. I'm sure that the players who struggled to learn think that whatever it is they can't learn is probably too complicated, but I think being a smart player and being able to be a player who can take on information and apply it on the field is important to being a smart player and being a successful player. So, that's what we want to do. They didn't change defensive coordinators in Miami, and they're going to do a lot of the same stuff. How many players said it wasn't too complicated? Did you ever think of that?"

Question – What's it like from a personal standpoint to have that first game with a team? And, do you think this one's going to be a little bit different?

COACH SABAN: "How many years have we been doing this, and how many games have we been in? Every game is different. Every game is the most important game because it's the game you are in this week. That's how we look at it. That's how we've always looked at it. This is the most important game on our schedule. This is the most important game to me. We have a new staff. This will be the first game with that new staff, with this new team, actually functioning in a game. So, I am sure we'll learn and grow together a lot on that, and I'm looking forward to seeing how that goes. In every circumstance that we've had so far I've been pleased with the way the staff and the players have responded to situations. We practiced in the last scrimmage game-like – headsets, all that type of thing – and it went fairly well so, hopefully, we'll get our players in the best positions so they have a chance to have success in the game."

Question – You said you would use this game to establish who you are as a team. Does that mean you will open up the offense and defense showing a lot of what you will be doing this season?

COACH SABAN: "What I'm talking about from an identity standpoint is more an intangible identity. When you open up the program and look at number 25, or number 39, or number 82, or whatever the guy's number is, what are you going to think about? How he plays, how he competes. You're not going to really see his face. You're not going to get to meet him personally. But you are going to make a character judgment by how that guy plays. The accumulation of all those individuals and how they compete and play is how people are going to characterize our team as a competitive unit. When I say an identity, that's really what I am talking about. Not really an offense or a defense or whatever. We want to be aggressive in style on both sides of the ball, and that should be part of an identity, but again that's an intangible thing. The tempo that we play with. The speed that we play with. The identity that we create in how we compete is what I am talking about. Not the offensive style, or the defensive style, or the special teams style."

Question – Could you talk about the return game in terms of punts and kicks, and some of the players you'd like to take a look at in a game situation?

COACH SABAN: "Javi (Arenas) has been probably the most consistent guy handling the ball, especially on punts. Jonathan Lowe missed fall camp for academic reasons, so we have not been able to work him as much as the other guys, so we'll try to work him. DJ Hall has done some good things on kickoff returns. Those are probably going to be the starters. We have other guys – Kareem Jackson is a backup punt return guy, we'll try to work Lowe into both of those areas. Those are the primary guys right now."

Question – How anxious are you personally to get that first game in the books and end all the hoopla about your debut with this team?

COACH SABAN: "I've been anxious to end all the hoopla for a long time. I think the focus should be on the team, not on me. This is all about the University of Alabama, Alabama football tradition. We just happen to be the representatives now that are there, but I represent the fans, the players, this institution and everyone else and anything that's being said about me, or done with me, should represent us all. That's how I would like for it to be – good, bad or indifferent. Hopefully, it establishes an identity that will give other people something else to focus on and I think that would be a good thing for all of us."

Question – There has been a hero worship surrounding you that we haven't seen with an Alabama football coach that we haven't seen since Coach Bryant. Has that made you feel a little uncomfortable at times?

COACH SABAN: "It is what it is. We certainly appreciate the support that everyone has given us. It's heartfelt by the Sabans to have the kind of support that we have had since we've been here. I think our fans and everyone involved in supporting this program has had a positive impact. I think it's important that we continue to have positive energy and positive impact regardless of what the circumstances are down the road as we try to build a program. I think that will be critical to the success of us building a program. We appreciate it, but I also think it should be a team thing in terms of how people look at this organization moving forward in the future. We are the leaders of the organization. We'll take responsibility, but I also want everybody else to get the proper recognition they deserve relative to our players, coaches and people in our administration. They all are part of the team and an important part of the team."

Question – Do you see that there are always more questions, as opposed to answers, coming out of a first game?

COACH SABAN: "I think that you have an opportunity to improve as much between the first game and the second game as maybe any time during the season. I think part of that is because you find out about yourself. I don't care what we think we know about players, until they go out there and play, that tells you how they can carry it to the field. What their responsibility is to their own self-determination, how they can go out and compete and be responsible. How many mental errors do they make on things you know that they know? That's something you find out when they go out and play. So I think to correct some of those things – sometimes they're personnel issues, sometimes they're schematic issues. I also think the players find out about themselves, too. Because of their experience, they're more ready to make some of the changes they need to make to improve as well. We will find out a lot about ourselves and will try to make improvements as we go."

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