Hoover, Ala.--There's little doubt what the quote of the day was on Wednesday's opening day of SEC Media Days at the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover. With Alabama up first on the docket there were fans surrounding the lobby preparing to see Coach Mike Shula and players Kenneth Darby and Ramzee Robinson. Once inside Robinson set the tone of the day for Alabama with one simple sentence.
Expected to finish no higher than second in the SEC West by most prognosticators, Robinson scoffed at the notion that his team was going to be in a rebuilding mode this season. The realization of that is made even tougher because of the fact that in-state rival Auburn is riding high and currently on a four-game winning streak against Alabama.
"'Fear The Thumb' has become Auburn's newest battle cry this season as the Tigers look for their first five-game winning streak against Alabama in over 50 years. That is something that Robinson and his teammates have been hearing since losing at Jordan-Hare Stadium last fall. It carried over to Dallas for the Cotton Bowl and Robinson said that things are going to change this season.
"They keep talking about ‘Fear The Thumb,'" Robinson said. "We've got a finger for them after the game."
Shula wasn't nearly as forthcoming about this season, instead choosing to talk positively about his team despite several big question marks. The first and biggest of those comes on defense where the Crimson Tide must replace eight starters including veteran linebackers Demeco Ryans and Freddie Roach. Shula said despite the lack of returning starters, the defense has plenty of experience coming back this season. Still he knows the offense must carry some of the load this season.
"Yeah, well, for sure, when you look on paper and you see the returning starters, for sure you're going to ask that question," Shula said. "The number one thing we got to do as an offense is find a way to score one more points than the team we're playing. We've had a pretty good defense the last few years in a lot of categories. Points allowed is one of them. I think even though we've got nine starters back on offense, we lost seven starters on defense, we still have more seniors playing on defense than we do on offense, even though they haven't started. That's what we've talked about as a staff.
"But for sure, do we need to do a better job this year offensively? Yeah, for sure. Do we need to take pressure, not make our defense hold the opponent to shut-out or three points to win football games? Yes, we need to do that. Our defense needs to do that for our offense, too. If we need to shut them out to three points so we can win the game, we need to do that."
Shula was much more at ease in front of the media than his first two years at SEC Media Days.
Among the names back for the Crimson Tide with experience are players such as Juwan Simpson, Robinson, Simeon Castille, Demarcus Waldrop, Jeremy Clark and Dominic Lee. Things are rosy for Simpson though after his arrest this summer for drug and gun charges. There are also question marks about wide receiver D.J. Hall after he left school to return home for the summer. While he didn't expound on the situation, Shula said both are expected to play this season.
Two of the better athletes that Alabama has recruited the last two seasons are due for positions other than quarterback this season. A freshman last year, Jimmy Johns was recruited to play quarterback for the Crimson Tide but quickly found himself at running back last season. Shula said he expects Johns to again play tailback for his team this season and he expects big things from him down the road.
The other player changing positions is true freshman Earl Alexander from Phenix City. Recruited as a quarterback, Alexander will line up at wide receiver this fall for Alabama after Shula said he kind of had a change of heart and realized the position was the best one for his future. With the uncertainty of Hall and the health of Tyrone Prothro, the move could pay dividends for Alabama immediately.
When discussing other teams around the league Shula had some nice things to say about Auburn quarterback Brandon Cox. When asked about the quarterbacks around the league Shula said that with so many new faces there are a lot of unknowns around the SEC this year.
"Well, you know, I think last year we didn't have many guys -- we had one of the few guys that were seniors that had experience," Shula said. "Now we're in the boat with some other schools that maybe have quarterbacks that don't have a lot of experience. I think, you know, Auburn, they've got a guy now that's got some experience, played well last year. He's going to be looked at to be one of the leaders in this group. You know, other than that, LSU with their quarterbacks, he's won some plays. They've got a couple guys in the mix there."
(More from SEC Media Days can be found on the Tiger Ticket forum in the SEC Media Day Notes reports.)