Alabama Makes Its Own Injury Luck

Former Alabama Coach Paul Bryant was wont to include a couple of conditions in his analysis of what to expect in a season. Those were schedule luck and injury luck.

Schedule luck was where opponents fell on the Alabama schedule, whether opponents were stronger or weaker than anticipated, where were open date(s), what team was the opponent playing the week before or the weak after facing Bama, etc.

Although injury luck can be extrapolated to include injuries to players on opposing teams, Bryant was generally speaking about injuries suffered by players on his team, including the depth situation at the position, the time of year (or even the day of week) of an injury, etc.

Would one consider Alabama Coach Nick Saban to be superstitious or scientific when it comes to injuries?

Earlier this week he noted that starting wide receiver Mike McCoy, who suffered a hamstring pull in last week's 41-30 win over Georgia, might not be available for this week's game against Kentucky. He was asked something along the lines of what per cent healthy McCoy was. It is common practice for a coach or player to say something along the lines of "He's about 85 per cent."

Saban said, "He's not full speed. He's not 100 per cent. We don't have a meter on him."

Later Saban was asked a more general question about injuries, and particularly about Alabama's seemingly good injury luck this season.

During his reply, Saban acknowledged Bama having had few serious injuries this year. "Hopefully," he said, as he knocked on the wood of the lectern in the media room, "it will continue."

But don't rely on Saban's words to think he is more superstitious than scientific. There are a lot of reasons Alabama has good "injury luck," and it's more planning than luck.

Saban said, "Football is not a dangerous game. There are injuries, but there are injuries in all sports.

"We try to practice so that we don't have injuries."

Saban said that his practices are designed to keep players off the ground, where most injuries occur. He said that injuries in games can not always be avoided. "We practice safe with our players and what we teach helps in games," Saban said. "Plus, we have a good strength and conditioning program."

Saban said having few injuries is important to a team because of keeping the players together.

Earlier this year when left tackle Andre Smith was out with a twisted knee. That meant experimentation in the offensive line. One way to take care of it was to move Mike Johnson from left guard to left tackle and put a back-up, Brian Motley or David Ross, at left guard. (Johnson was Alabama's starting right tackle last year and Saban had said he would be the first option at either tackle spot if needed this year.) Another option was to moved current right tackle Drew Davis to left tackle and put freshman John Michael Boswell at right tackle.

McCoy's injury comes just as Will Oakley is coming back to full speed from a summer injury. Oakley broke his foot in a weightroom accident. One good thing about Oakley is that he knows the assignments and prepares for all four wide receiver positions. (Alabama offensive linemen also learn more than one position.)

Last week Saban did not take wide receiver Darius Hanks to Georgia. Later he said that Hanks had not been 100 per cent healthy and with a limited squad for a Southeastern Conference road game, it was decided to take another player who was 100 per cent.

Alabama players have said they do not like to be in the black shirt that signifies a player unable to practice. That player will spend practice time on the sidelines with a trainer and/or strength coach going through rigorous rehabilitation work.

One reason for Alabama success this year is a lack of injuries at key positions. Last year the running backs had a number of injuries. Terry Grant, Glen Coffee and Roy Upchurch have all had injuries including knee, sports hernia, ankle, and shoulder. This year they have been healthy and Alabama leads the SEC in rushing offense.

Other than McCoy, Alabama is expected to be without little-used tight end Preston Dial when the Crimson Tide hosts Kentucky Saturday. This is a battle of undefeated teams, Alabama 5-0 and ranked second in the nation, Kentucky 4-0. CBS will televise the game beginning at 2:30 p.m. CDT Saturday from Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama is ranked second in the nation.

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