Saban Stresses Tide Showing Improvement

No one thinks about "Dear Abby" having a problem. It has been well-documented that Clemson Coach Tommy Bowden made some Sunday telephone calls to various coaches to discuss ways of solving his problem--getting his Tigers back to contender status.

One of those calls went to Alabama Coach Nick Saban, who has a long history of "personal and professional respect" for the Bowden family. It goes back to when Saban's father died, when Saban was a young coach at Kent State. Bobby Bowden, the famed patriarch of the Bowden coaching family, told Saban's mother that Saban could have a job at West Virginia so he could be closer to home.

Saban joined the West Virginia staff in 1978, and Tommy Bowden was a graduate assistant at the time.

Coaches talk to one another. Even considering Alabama having beaten Clemson, 34-10, on Saturday night in the GeorgiaDome in Atlanta, there was noting unusual about Bowden's call to Saban.

Saban didn't get into the specifics of the conversation, as would be expected. "I know how they feel," Saban said. And he pointed out that it was only one game, citing Virginia Tech losing badly in its first game to LSU last year, then playing in a BCS bowl game at the end of the season.

Saban said that Clemson has the players to improve and that he expects Bowden and his staff to get it turned around.

Saban has his own worries. "Sometimes it's easier to get players to respond when they don't have success than when they do," he said. "If we're complacent, we can get used to mediocrity. The challenge for us is to be consistent this week. The players responded well in practice today. Hopefully, we'll continue to prepare well this week and play well on Saturday."

Speaking of troubles, this week's Alabama opponent is Tulane, and it can't be easy being a Green Wave when a Hurricane has slammed into your campus and home.

Alabama will host Tulane at Bryant-Denny Stadium at 6 p.m. CDT Saturday. The only telecast of the game will be on a Pay-Per-View basis.

Saban pointed out that Tulane, which has not yet played a game this year, will have been able to prepare. The difficult part, he said, is the emotional factor. "But if it is a mature team and they stay focused, they can overcome," Saban said.

Alabama, ranked 13th in the nation, worked for two hours in full pads Wednesday afternoon. There was light rain.

"We are pleased with the progress that we made today in practice," Saban said. "I thought the players had pretty good focus, pretty good energy and I think we made some improvement. It was a tough, physical game that we are coming off of and we have been dragging a little bit, but I thought we did a pretty good job today.

"The big point of emphasis is you either get better or get worse out there and we need to get better. We can't be satisfied with where we are. Anybody that's pleased with where we are right now needs to get content with mediocrity, because that's not where we want to be and that's not where we want to try and go. That's not what we want to try and play toward. We are really interested in trying to play to the capacity that we have as a team, which means we want to reach our potential in what we are doing. There are some things that we can do a lot better. There are more players who can contribute in a more positive way and that certainly something that we want to try to accomplish."

Saban said that Tulane presents some different looks for Alabama this week, a different defensive front and different pass coverages. On offense, he said, the Green Wave runs the so-called West Coast offense. "We haven't seen two backs in the backfield since the flood," Saban said.

On the injury front, Saban said that starting left tackle Andre Smith and back-up wide receiver Earl Alexander are "doubtful." Smith suffered a sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his knee against Clemson.

The coach said that neither had what is considered to be a long-term medical problem. He said Smith's knee should heal without surgery. "They are making progress, but they didn't work out."

Saban does not have any hard and fast rule as to how much work a player can miss and still be able to play. He said he considers each athlete individually. "It depends on the guy," he said. "Some guys can play hurt, some can't. Some guys can play with minimal preparation, some can't."

Alabama finished the Clemson game with left guard Mike Johnson moving to left tackle and David Ross taking Johnson's spot, and Saban said the plan was to start that way against Tulane. He said if there is another injury at the tackle position, the spot would be taken by Taylor Pharr or "by one of the freshmen." Tyler Love, Barrett Jones and John Michael Boswell are freshmen listed as back-up tackles.

Saban said that wide receiver Will Oakley, who suffered a stress fracture in his foot in summer conditioning work, is working out and running routes, but no decision has been made on his playing future.

Saban said that Alabama worked on special teams, including kickoff coverage Wednesday. Bama, which led the SEC in kickoff coverage in 2007, gave up a 96-yard kickoff touchdown return to Clemson's C.J. Spiller. "We need to get better in special teams," Saban said.

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