Tide Has Business In California

California, here they come. Alabama will have one more practice in Tuscaloosa, a workout in shells (helmets, shoulder pads, hip pads) Thursday, and then it's time to get ready for business. The business, of course, is the national championship game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena against Texas on January 7.

Alabama has had four practices in Tuscaloosa, two outside and two i,n full gear (including Wednesday) since a short break for Christmas. Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban said the last three practices have been good "after we've gotten back and a got the Christmas hangover out of them. We practiced really well today.  We had to go inside.  We feel very fortunate that we've been able to go outside as much as we have been able to go out. To get two days in this week, it could have been a lot worse."

The Crimson Tide worked inside the Hank Crisp Indoor Facility on Wednesday as a steady rain fell throughout the day in Tuscaloosa. Alabama will fly to California Friday and begin workouts Saturday.  

Number one Alabama and number two Texas, both 13-0, will meet in the BCS National Championship Game next Thursday.  

Saban said junior left tackle James Carpenter has practiced the last two days after missing Monday with illness. Senior cornerback Marquis Johnson, who had also been sick, has practiced each day despite a thumb injury.

  Saban was asked about this being more of a business trip than a traditional bowl game (which is often much a pleasure trip for the players).

  "I think the whole trip is set up a little bit differently, Saban said. "I don't think there are a lot of activities for the players on the trip. It is a bowl trip, but it is a business trip.  Every bowl trip we've taken, we've tried to create a balance between the business side of it and playing well and actually the players getting some opportunity to get some reward for their accomplishments for the year, in terms of what they are allowed to do. I don't think our players, here in Tuscaloosa with nothing else to do right now, this is just me, and I might be wrong, think about this game, 24-7.

 "When they come here (to the football complex), they think about it and focus really well and are concerned about doing their job.  Some of them spend extra time doing all that stuff, but they still have a life to live and other things that are important, their families and all that kind of stuff. 

"I think what I'm concerned about is when we are doing something as a team that they've got their gas tank ready to go emotionally, physically and mentally to do what they need to do to be able to play their best football game.  That's what we've talked about all along and each guy's got to manage that.

"I drew a line on the board after the SEC Championship Game and said its 32 days until we play in the National Championship Game and how every one of you guys manage that is going to determine how well you play. Not just practice, how well you take care of yourself, how well you rest, the kind of shape you stay in, how you work out between now and then, how you practice, how you prepare yourself mentally to play in the game.  Everybody's got to make those decisions no matter what we do we can't make them do it.  If guys are going to go jump in the middle of the ocean, they've got free time, you can tell them I'd rather you not do that.  Most of them respond to what you want them do, but it's still there choices and decisions and that usually comes from how important is it to them.  So far, I think everybody has responded that this is important to them and they are looking forward to the opportunity that they have created for themselves in this game."  

That 32-day gap is unusual. Saban said, "The players have been really pretty good about it.  I think they're excited to have the opportunity to play in this game.  I think everybody's sort of got to change their mindset a little bit, because by this time after 13 games, you're really kind of used to this is what you do on Monday, this is what you do on Tuesday, this is what you do on Wednesday, this is what you do on Thursday and then you go play a game. 

"We've gone through two of those blocks of time in preparation for something, but then there's never a game.  I think you have to sort of work your way back into it because you've had a significant amount of time off. I think these last two days, I really feel like our team is sort of back, moving like they should, being able to sustain, guys look fast and quick and they kind of went through that run them down a little bit, get tired, give them some days off, bounce back and sort of go through it again and then you're sort of where you need to be.

"It is a long time not to have a game.  I do think you want, especially emotionally and psychologically, physically is a different thing and what we've been focusing on to this point is try to get them back physically to where they need to be. I think emotionally you sort of want to get right for the game when the game comes.  We still have quite a bit of time until the game, more than we've had for just about any other game that we've had played this year, except a bye-week game.  Even though we've worked quite a bit on what Texas does and all that, that's just technically what we need to do to have success in the game and that's what we want to try and continue to work on."  

Saban was asked if he had pre-season questions about an Alabama team that was rebuilding its offensive line and had a new tailback and new quarterback.

"I think you always sort of have questions and concerns about your team every year," he said. "There is always going to be some area of your team that you are trying to rebuild.  It's always going to create opportunities for other players on your team and you never know for sure how that group is going to come together or how those young players are going to respond.  The offense line was always sort of something that we talked about.  Seldom did we have any kind of media gathering where somebody didn't ask about the concern they had about the quarterback position. There weren't always a lot of questions about the defense because there were a lot of guys coming back on the defense. 

"Now next year, I'm sure there will be a lot of questions about that because there's going to be lots of opportunities for other guys to play, relative to who leaves the team. 

"I think you always have that in college.  Your team is always changing and you really want to develop and you're always going to have those questions and you have those questions throughout the course of the year when you lose a significant player for a game, or for a season, or for several games. Just like we've had opportunities when we mentioned Peek missing (games), Michael Williams did a really good job. Dont'a Hightower has missed (nine games) and we had three or four guys that have sort of filled in various roles that he had, but they were question marks at the time.

" It's sort of ever-evolving and ever-changing and I feel like we've been very fortunate this year that just about in every opportunity that was created somebody stepped up to the challenge and the other players on the team sort of helped them do the things they needed to do in order to be able to fulfill their role and responsibility to the team.  But, you always have those questions."

Saban also took the opportunity in his final press briefing of 2009 to wish everyone a happy and prosperous New Year.

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