Saban Discusses Start Of Football Practice

Alabama Coach Nick Saban met with the media Thursday afternoon, the day before the beginning of Alabama's fall football camp. Alabama will open fall drills Friday with half the squad working in the afternoon, the other half in the evening.

A team can have 105 players in camp prior to the beginning of classes (August 20 at Alabama this year), at which time the squad limit is ended. A team may also have up to 25 scholarshipped newcomers (high school and junior college signees) and a total of 85 scholarshipped players. Obviously, a minimum of 20 of those in fall camp will be walk-ons.

Alabama will begin practice Friday with two sessions, approximately half the squad in each session. Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban pointed out that nothing should be made of players working in one session or another. It's strictly administrative he said, trying to get an equal number of players at each position in each session. He pointed out that he uses the split sessions "once or twice" at the beginning of fall practice so that coaches have more time to teach.

Generally speaking, Alabama practices are closed. An exception is Sunday when the Tide hosts "Fan Day" at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The practice session beginning at 2:30 p.m. is open to the public and following the practice players and Coach Saban will be available for about 45 minutes to sign autographs.

Saban said he and the players look forward to Fan Day, and he pointed out the important role the legendary support of Bama partisans plays in Crimson Tide success, particularly in recruiting. He also pointed out that Alabama will have only "a limited amount" of its offense and defense installed.

A feature of fall camp is that Alabama will have up to five days of "two-a-day" practices prior to the beginning of classes.

Alabama will open the 2008 season in the GeorgiaDome in Atlanta at 8 p.m. EDT (7 p.m. central) against Clemson in a game to be nationally televised by ABC.

Much of Saban's Thursday discussion had to do with the status of various players. There have been suspensions, injuries, academic issues, transfers, and defections. Here are some of the personnel notes:

Inside linebacker Prince Hall is with the team and on the fall camp roster and practicing, but he will be suspended for the first three games of the season. Hall was suspended last spring for a violation of rules and Saban had indicated earlier that there would be a suspension even if Hall did those things necessary to rejoin the team. Hall worked in the sunner program with his teammates.

Wide receiver Will Oakley of St. Augustine, Florida, who suffered a stress fracture in his foot in summer conditioning work, will not be able to practice for three weeks and is not on the 105 reporting roster. He will rejoin the team when classes begin August 20. Oakley won't be practicing during fall camp, but he will be receiving treatment and rehabilitating the foot. Saban pointed out that Oakley had a good spring and knows the offense and will be able to fit back into the depth chart when he returns to the team.

Incoming freshman running back Jermaine Preyear had a shoulder injury and has had some issues with that injury in the summer and so he will be "a medical redshirt, for all practical purposes a grayshirt," entering The University in January.

Incoming freshman lineman Kerry Murphy was not cleared academically to enter for fall camp after a year at Hargrave Academy. That has been appealed, but Saban indicated Murphy should be ready to enroll at Alabama in January. Murphy was a top prospect out of Hoover High School following the 2006 season.

Saban repeated earlier news that signees Devonta Bolton (wide receiver/tight end) and Brandon Lewis (defensive end) have elected to attend junior college after having been declared academically ineligible. Both are reported to be at East Mississippi Junior College this fall. A player cannot transfer from a junior college to a Southeastern Conference school and have immediate eligibility until he earns his junior college degree. Junior college players are "free agents" insofar as college recruiting is concerned. If Alabama wants them back in a couple of years, the Tide will have to recruit and sign them.

He said that pro baseball signees Destin Hood and Melvin Ray, both of who had signed with Bama as wide receivers, know that if they elect to return to college that Alabama has a place for them. Players can be professionals in one sport and participate in another sport in college, but cannot be on scholarship if they are or have been professional athletes. A professional baseball team would not give one of its players permission to play college football, so Hood or Ray ending up in a Bama football uniform would not come before the baseball career had ended.

Transfer (from Georgia Tech) tight end Colin Peek will be with the team in fall camp, but his appeal to have immediate eligibility was denied. Thus, he will have to sit out in 2008 and will have only one year of eligibility remaining in 2009. Saban indicated Peek's family might take further action, but said that is "up to them."

Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Patrick Crump of Hoover has left the team.

Coach Saban said that middle linebacker Rolando McClain, who had been injured in a motorcycle accident early in the summer, had been able to go through all off-season work in the summer.

Linebacker was the only position discussed by Saban Thursday. Alabama has lost three starters and some back-up players from the four linebacker positions. Only McClain returns as a starter. Saban said that linebacker signees would be needed particularly at the inside positions (middle and weakside), but that the most heralded of the freshmen linebackers, Jerrell Harris, was an outside linebacker. Harris is expected to work at strongside linebacker. Freshman Dont'a Hightower will work at one or both of the inside spots.

Saban said he thought his first Alabama team in 2007 got off to a good start and that he expects this team to be in even better condition than last year. He also pointed out that the team has been in the system for a year, which should be an advantage as the second season begins.

He also said he hopes that more depth means better competition for jobs, which is "healthy. I'm looking forward to some of those battles that improve depth."

Bama has a new offensive coordinator in Jim McElwain and Saban said that he expects that to be a plus for the team. The head coach also noted that McElwain is a new "play-caller," but that the offense will be essentially the same as it was last season.

Saban reiterated the goal of having the best players on the field and said there could be some fall experimentation with personnel moves, although he said he preferred to do that in the spring.

Historically, a team ends fall camp and begins preparation for its first game a week or so before kickoff. Saban pointed out that he thinks too much preparation for a specific game can be counter-productive, a team getting stale. Alabama will, however, spend time in fall camp working against various offensive and defensive concepts that the Tide will see from opponents.

"We're really excited about getting started," Saban said. He said that fall camp offers challenges and opportunities for players to focus on details and the right habits that lead to winning football games. As he frequently notes, the team needs to have a high number of players who are capable of sustaining – meaning having good conditioning and mental toughness.

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