Saban Indicates Things Are Well

Considering the situation with Florida's Urban Meyer taking a leave of absence for an illness that apparently is aggravated by the stress of being a football coach, it seems Alabama's team is keeping the stress level low for its head football coach.



Alabama returned to the practice field Sunday evening after having had three days off for Christmas and Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban met with reporters for the first time since before that last pre-break work. He described that final practice before Christmas as not quite a scrimmage, but team work in full gear. He said the team was in full gear when it hit the indoor practice facility upon its return Sunday night. On Monday, the team was in shells, something like a regular Monday practice.

And in each case, Saban had positive things to say about the work.  

Saban said, "We got everyone back safely (Sunday) afternoon and had a good practice, inside in pads, and tried to get the players to sort of work the kinks out after being off the last few days and it really went better than I anticipated, in terms of picking up where we left off.

"On the last day of practice before the break we did quite a bit of team stuff. We didn't really do a scrimmage, but we really did a move the field, players play the game on their own, try to get themselves in position to tackle, and I thought that went fairly well. Everybody had a few days off and we're glad to get everybody back last night.

"Today [Monday], we sort of tried to vary the practices in terms of what we do, so we're not doing the same things every day. We usually go two days in pads and one day in shells, we had gone the last day in pads and the first day back in pads, so today was a shell day.  Sort of like what we'd do on Monday in game week, a lot of 7-on-7, cut down the hitting a little bit and a lot of assignment work, so that's really what we did today and it went well today. We did some heavy running and tried to improve on our conditioning.   

"It was a little chilly out, but I think that every day we get the opportunity and the fields are dry enough and we can go outside, since we are playing outside, we need to try and do that, especially in the kicking game and we worked a lot on the kicking game today.  I think we got a lot accomplished."

Alabama, 13-0 and ranked number one in the nation, will meet Texas, also 13-0 and ranked second in the nation, in the Bowl Championship Series national championship game on January 7 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

The team practiced for five days December 19-23 before a three-day break for the holidays.  The Crimson Tide returned to campus on Sunday and will practice five more times before departing for California on Friday.  

Saban said, "We got everyone back safely (Sunday) afternoon and had a good practice, inside in pads, and tried to get the players to sort of work the kinks out after being off the last few days and it really went better than I anticipated, in terms of picking up where we left off.

"On the last day of practice before the break we did quite a bit of team stuff. We didn't really do a scrimmage, but we really did a move the field, players play the game on their own, try to get themselves in position to tackle, and I thought that went fairly well. Everybody had a few days off and we're glad to get everybody back last night.

"Today [Monday], we sort of tried to vary the practices in terms of what we do, so we're not doing the same things every day. We usually go two days in pads and one day in shells, we had gone the last day in pads and the first day back in pads, so today was a shell day.  Sort of like what we'd do on Monday in game week, a lot of 7-on-7, cut down the hitting a little bit and a lot of assignment work, so that's really what we did today and it went well today. We did some heavy running and tried to improve on our conditioning.   

"It was a little chilly out, but I think that every day we get the opportunity and the fields are dry enough and we can go outside, since we are playing outside, we need to try and do that, especially in the kicking game and we worked a lot on the kicking game today.  I think we got a lot accomplished."

Saban said junior left tackle James Carpenter and senior defensive back Marquis Johnson were both sick on Monday. Additionally, Johnson has an injured thumb that is in a cast. Saban said Johnson will be able to practice "and should be able to play in the game." Saban said he didn't think the illnesses of late season are as contagious as the flu that was going around Alabama's campus (and just about everywhere else) in late summer and  

Saban said, "We got everyone back safely (Sunday) afternoon and had a good practice, inside in pads, and tried to get the players to sort of work the kinks out after being off the last few days and it really went better than I anticipated, in terms of picking up where we left off.

"On the last day of practice before the break we did quite a bit of team stuff. We didn't really do a scrimmage, but we really did a move the field, players play the game on their own, try to get themselves in position to tackle, and I thought that went fairly well. Everybody had a few days off and we're glad to get everybody back last night.

"Today [Monday], we sort of tried to vary the practices in terms of what we do, so we're not doing the same things every day. We usually go two days in pads and one day in shells, we had gone the last day in pads and the first day back in pads, so today was a shell day.  Sort of like what we'd do on Monday in game week, a lot of 7-on-7, cut down the hitting a little bit and a lot of assignment work, so that's really what we did today and it went well today. We did some heavy running and tried to improve on our conditioning.   

"It was a little chilly out, but I think that every day we get the opportunity and the fields are dry enough and we can go outside, since we are playing outside, we need to try and do that, especially in the kicking game and we worked a lot on the kicking game today.  I think we got a lot accomplished."

  Alabama's last outing was on the first weekend in December when the Crimson Tide romped over Florida, 32-13, to win the Southeastern Conference championship. Saban was asked if that game would help prepare Alabama for the Texas offense.

  "Not really," Saban said. "There are some similarities in the zone read part of it, but they are totally different style guys. I think (Texas quarterback) Colt McCoy runs the ball because their offense demands it on occasion. He is not the focal point of running the ball a lot, but the four or five times he runs the ball he's usually very effective. He's also a very capable scrambler, scramble to throw and make big plays as well as scramble to run. He's a concern as a runner because of his athletic ability, but the offense is not built around him running the ball. They do have plays where he runs it, and he does a very good job of that. This offense in our estimation would be much more a passing offense in terms of passes, formations, things they try to do, and the production they have. I think they have four receivers who have 40-plus catches and (Jordan) Shipley has 106 or 108. There's a lot of passes and a real consistency in terms of a passing game and the offense they have. (Florida quarterback) Tim Tebow is a runner first. He's a good quarterback, he's a good passer, but he's a runner first. Texas's offense isn't that way at all. They have a quarterback who can run and will run and make big plays."

  McCoy, twice a finalist for the Heisman Trophy and winner of every quarterback award this season, is a major topic of conversation. Saban recounted recruiting McCoy for LSU before Saban departed Baton Rouge for the Miami Dolphins.

  Even though McCoy is a pin-point passer, his ability to run causes particular problems.

  "Everybody's got an assignment each time on defense," Saban said. "They run zone-option, where he pulls the ball sometimes. They run quarterback counters.  They run quarterback draws.  I think that the fact is they are such a good passing team and he's such a good passer and they have very good passing efficiency in all that they do.  They are a very good third-down team.  They force you to really try and play more where you are covering your receivers, so now you have less people in the box, which makes it more difficult to defend quarterback runs and I think that's one of the things that he has as much speed as any quarterback that we have played against all year.  We are going to have to be more disciplined, especially up front in the front seven, of making sure that our eye control and our keying is very disciplined, so that we have the right guys in the right places when he decides to run the ball, because you are a little bit spread out with the kind of offense that they run."

Another area for concern for Alabama is the Texas kickoff return game.

  "They are very good at kickoff returns," Saban said. "I think they have had three for touchdowns this year, maybe more, but three that I can remember watching the tapes.  We have covered kicks well when we have been disciplined in what we are supposed to do, reading the indicator the right way, dodging the blocks the right way and fitting it the right way. I think that's going to be important for us to do again because we faced some good returners. They actually have two good returners, not one, and both are very fast and both guys are capable of making big plays in kickoff returns. It's going to be a real challenge for our kick coverage to do the right things, being in the right place, dodge the blocks the right way, fit the wedge the right way, overlap and keep the ball in front like we need to be able to have good kickoff coverage."  

  Alabama's coach was also asked about the Texas defense, and specifically about the Longhorns leading the nation in interceptions.

  "Well, I think Texas has a very good defense, period," Saban said. "They've got a very good secondary.  They've got good people up front.  They've got a couple of good pass rushers.  I think all those things contribute to the turnovers.  I think they also have the most non-offensive touchdowns scored (in the nation), which means their defense is scoring some too.  I think it's because of the pressure, and not just the way the players play in the back end, but also the pressure they put on you and how it affects the quarterback up front.  The challenge is that all the guys do their job well.  We're going to have to protect well.  We're going to have to run good routes and get open, make a good choice and decision in the way we distribute the ball from the quarterback position.  Turnovers will definitely have an impact on this game, like they do every game."

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