Sunday Is Full Day In Tide Football
There had been only two days of Alabama football practice, both in helmets and shorts, prior to Sunday. On Friday the Crimson Tide squad had been divided into two groups of about 52 each, the early practice primarily for returning experienced players, the second practice featuring newcomers.
Before the Sunday afternoon practice, Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban met briefly with the press. (He wasn't cutting the opportunity short. There was a lot to be done in a short time, with two top assistants also meeting with reporters, some players having interview sessions, the reporting squad of 105 posing for the team picture. Oh, yeah. And practice. And then a session with Crimson Tide fans for autographs).
In trying to determine a pre-season depth chart, there were a handful of Alabama players (including a few newcomers) who were thought capable of playing either offense or defense. For instance, Baron Huber was last year's starting fullback (in an offense that didn't make much use of a true fullback), then moved to inside linebacker in the spring. Huber now is back in the offensive backfield. Brian Motley has been a top contender for play on the defensive line, but is now on the offensive line. Newcomers B.J. Scott (wide receiver/linebacker) and Mark Barron (wide receiver/safety) are among those who could play more than one position.
Coach Saban had an interesting answer to a question about the manner in which it is determined where to put these two-way candidates.
"First of all," Saban said, "we always ask the player what they want to play. A lot of players have specific wants and needs about what they'd like to try and be, what their goals and aspirations are and what they have the passion to play. I think that's important that you give them an opportunity to play that.
"I also think there is a part of a business decision that goes into every guy's future, as to where he can contribute to the team best and where he can best develop his career as a football player. I think at some point and time, you sit down and talk to a player about that, if it's necessary. That's basically how we do it.
"We have a pretty good idea in recruiting. Most guys will indicate to you, I'll do whatever you want me to do to help the team. Some guys say that want to play a certain position and you make a commitment to allowing them to do that.
"As a rule of thumb, if it doesn't matter, and the guys has the ability to play both sides of the ball, my rule of thumb is, I'd rather start front seven players on defense, if they have an opportunity to do that, and move them to offense later, and skill guys start them all on offense and move them to defense later, if that makes any sense."
Discussing practice, Saban said, "From a football standpoint, we are very pleased with the two days we have been able to accomplish in camp so far, just in helmets. We have had a lot of good work. The focus still needs to be on paying attention to detail, what the process every player needs to go through to play winning football on a consistent basis and be able to sustain that effort for 60 minutes in a game. That's why we have camp to accomplish those details. We have to create those habits to sustain this performance so you can get the consistency and execution that you need.
"Obviously, we have varying levels of experience out there in our players right now. How those players develop and how those players who have more experience continue to improve will certainly contribute to a large degree of the kind of success this team can have. I think that is something everyone controls. We all control that. We can control how hard we work. We control how much we focus. We control the metal toughness that we have to overcome the circumstances of the weather, or whatever the situation is. I think that kind of maturity, to be able to maintain a tempo that is going to give us the repetitions that we need in practice to make the kind of improvement that we make, is certainly a personality and identity that this team needs to continue to try and work and develop."
The coach said, "We don't have any significant injuries to report. (Wide receiver) Darius Hanks is in a black shirt because he had a shoulder injury in the spring. He had surgery right after spring practice and at least the first week, he is cleared to practice, no one had any contact, but he would not have had contact if we were in shoulder pads, shells or whatever. We will go in shoulder pads and shells today. The focus of what we try to do in terms of installation will not change, so we will continue to work and try to improve. There is a lot to learn, there is a lot of teaching going on and I think the players attitude toward it has been excellent and the coaches are doing a great job."
Saban was asked about redshirt freshman defensive end Alfred McCullough, who was something of a surprise as winner of the Dwight Stephenson Most Outstanding Lineman award in the spring A-Day Game. The coach said, "Alfred has done a really good job. He did an outstanding job in the spring and he continues to work on developing as a football player. We have been pleased with his progress. He is out there competing and has an opportunity to contribute in the front seven. He had a good spring and he improved in the spring and that has put him in position to have an opportunity to help the team, but what he does now is going to be the most important thing, in terms of how he contributes to the team this year."
It is never a surprise when Saban is asked about the performance of quarterback John Parker Wilson, and Sunday was no exception. "John Parker is doing really well," Saban said. "He had an excellent spring. I think that having a good bowl game last year probably helped his confidence. Certainly, he did a great job in the off-season. He and Coach Mac (Offensive Coordinator Jim McElwain) seemed to have worked well together. I think technically he has improved, and I think his decision-making and his judgment have improved. Hopefully we can continue to make the big plays and minimize that not-so-good plays that we have, especially when turning the ball over, which still is one of the most critical statistics to winning of any. He seemed to be a little more business-like in his approach. He is a great competitor and very emotional guy and sometimes playing quarterback, you want a guy to make business decisions and not get caught up emotionally in trying to hard and forcing things. He seems to have developed a real maturity in that area which I think could affect his play in a positive way."
Before his press briefing, Saban said, "The first thing I'd like to do is give our condolences, as an organization and as a group and as a family, to Coach (Gene) Stallings and his family for their loss. It is certainly felt by all of us. John Mark was certainly someone I grew to love in a very short period of time, in terms of his passion and spirit for The University of Alabama, as well for life and how he affected so many people in this community. The Stallings family will always be a great part of the tradition of the The University of Alabama. Our thoughts and prayers are with them on this Sunday morning."
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