The Alabama fans are present and accounted for as Coach Nick Saban makes the rounds talking to a few select radio shows before hitting the media room. With Florida and Tim Tebow as well as Georgia and Ole Miss, Thursday should be a wild day.
* Rogers Redding talked to the media briefly this morning. The Coordinator of Officials says that this is the "smallest number of changes I've seen." For the first time in several years, there will be no clock rule changes. With a limited number of changes this year, there will be none next year. All rule changes are good for two years. Thus, the current rulebook of officiating is effective for 2009 and 2010.
* In the past it has been required that seven players must be on the line of scrimmage or else it's an illegal formation. Generally, that will still be the case. However, the rule will read differently to say that there should be no less than four players in the backfield. A few times this past year an offensive team lined up with 10 players on the field—six on the line and four in the backfield. That is no longer a penalty given the new wording. When teams line up with 11 men on the field, the new rule won't change anything, so this is a very minor rule change.
* Perhaps the biggest rule change is with rugby-style punters. The rules were unclear about roughing the kicker in the past when a punter takes the snap, runs with the ball, then punts. The new rule states that the punter is fair game once he is outside the tackle box. If the punter makes it outside the tackles then defenders won't be subject to roughing the kicker penalties.
*Mark Richt said that he felt like quarterback Joe Cox personified all of the characteristics needed to be a good quarterback. He said 106 out of 110 guys on the team at exit meetings in the spring listed Joe Cox as one of the team leaders.
*He said Georgia is always motivated to win the Eastern Division and it didn't matter that Florida was an overwhelming favorite. He said the closer to the season it gets the more a team focuses on the opponent at hand. He said for Georgia that means the focus is Oklahoma State.
*Georgia's non-conference schedule is pretty tough with three BCS teams on the slate. Richt said Oklahoma State has a loaded offense coming back. He said it's a team that has been pointing towards this season with an upgraded stadium to play in. Throw in Arizona State and Georgia Tech and he said his team will have its hands full.
*He said he thought the defense was hungrier than it has been in a long time. He talked about the middle of the Georgia defense with Jeffrey Owens and Rennie Curran anchoring the defense. Also the return of kicker Blair Walsh is another strong point according to Richt.
*Richt noted he could blindly pick out two or three running backs and feels like the Bulldogs would have success because they are all pretty outstanding players. He said they had 29 practice opportunities to see who the guy would be that would be the go-to player when they needed him. He finished by saying the Bulldogs would run the ball.
*Joe Cox will be the starter for the Bulldogs at quarterback, but Richt said that they could have a wildcat package for Logan Gray as well because of his athleticism.
Since Florida is the heavy favorite to win the SEC and possibly another national title, there's much more national media on hand on Thursday. Georgia players Joe Cox and Jeff Owens were asked question after question about Florida this year and the Florida game last year.
Asked how Georgia can get revenge from the 49-10, Cox answered, "Hopefully it's just a win. We got to dance, they got to call timeouts. Hopefully this year we can compete well enough to get a win."
Georgia reporters appear to be lobbying for the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party to be moved indoors. Owens responded that they should play it some years in the Georgia Dome and some years in Jacksonville. Cox said, "I don't really care. It really doesn't matter because once you get inside (the stadium) it's 50/50."
Cox, a senior who takes over for Matthew Stafford as the quarterback, says the Bulldogs will be more complete this year. Last year people looked to and relied on Stafford and Knowshon Moreno to make plays. When they weren't able to, the rest of the team didn't know what to do. That will be different this year according to Cox. The QB added that sophomore receiver A.J. Green "is one of the best I've ever seen. He could be as good as he wants to be."
Owens added a little about the mental mindset of the team. "Last year we were up tight. This year we're a lot more laid back and we feel like underdogs."
Owens seems to be enjoying his time in Birmingham. He's carrying around a mini video recorder and is filming his day.
Alabama's Nick Saban
*Saban said you can't really replace players like Antoine Caldwell and Andre Smith because of the talent and leadership they possessed. He said James Carpenter showed in the spring he could be at least a functional offensive lineman in the SEC. He said the key is Mike Johnson and his ability to lead the line to improvement starting in the fall.
*Alabama will open the season against Virginia Tech this season after doing the same against Clemson last year. He said his team gained a lot of confidence playing well against the Tigers and that helped early in the season and in particular in road games at Georgia, Tennessee and LSU.
*Saban noted that Rolando McClain has matured and become a better leader in the last year by learning how to manage the different personalities on the team. He said leadership doesn't stop with one guy though and he's seen some guys step up that aren't necessarily seniors.
*He said the SEC West is going to be challenging this season with some good returning players. He singled out Houston Nutt at Ole Miss and Les Miles at LSU as teams that will be expected to challenge for the title, but also talked about Auburn and Arkansas as teams that could make a run at the championship.
Alabama's Rolando McClain
* Saban was asked about spread offense and what makes it difficult to defense. Obviously when the quarterback is athletic it creates mismatches. "When the quarterback is a runner, it creates an extra blocker or receiver that you've got to cover." More so than just a numbers game, some of the systems out there, like Florida and Utah, are a bit different from what you see week to week. It would be easier if those were the norm, but preparing for different systems week to week is hard to simulate with your scout team.
* Saban talked about his role in the upcoming movie about Michael Oher. He had to wear an LSU shirt in the movie because he was at LSU at the time of Oher's recruitment, but he says he hasn't seen any resentment yet for wearing the purple and gold.
* Junior middle linebacker Rolando McClain said he could hardly picture Saban being in a movie. "I'm surprised he's found the time to be in a movie as much as he works and watches film."
* Sticking with the theme of the day, Florida and Tim Tebow, McClain was asked about the senior lefty. "I like the guy because of the competitor he is. He's such a good leader." McClain told a story about the SEC Championship Game last year when Tebow talked to the Florida defense, got them fired up and forced a pair of three-and-outs. "Maybe I need to get his number, call him and see how he does it. I'm a leader by example, but he's a leader by example and he's vocal."
* McClain was asked about his draft status for next year. "I haven't even thought about it," he responded. McClain will be a junior this year. He added that if the situation came up where he had the opportunity to go pro, he'd have a thorough thought process and evaluation.
Offensive tackle Mike Johnson:
*He said Antoine Caldwell was Alabama's leader last season and there was no question about it. He said he's hoping to become that guy for the Crimson Tide this season.
*Johnson noted that Carpenter is a guy that has been impressive to him but nobody is going to be an Outland Trophy Winner in their first season. He said the newcomer has put in the work to be successful along with freshman D.J. Fluker and both could be viable options at tackle this season.
* Houston Nutt mentioned former Auburn defensive end coach Terry Price. "We were fortunate enough to get Terry Price. He has done an outstanding job with our defensive line."
* Nutt spoke highly of both of his player representatives—quarterback Jevan Snead and free safety Kendrick Lewis. "Kendrick Lewis has been taking the baton at the 5:30 workouts. He has been a real leader for our team."
* Lewis said, "I took a lot of notes from the guys the previous year—Peria Jerry, Michael Oher, Jamarca Sanford, Jason Cook—to try to build this team, keep it rolling and be successful in the end."
* Teams that finish the season hot with a big bowl win tend to have a letdown the next year, but the Rebels are trying to avoid that. Snead said, "Our goal is to improve on last season. Our motto of the year is ‘unsatisfied.'"
* Nutt, Lewis and Snead were all asked several questions about Tebow. I thought this was SEC Media Days, not a Tim Tebow Convention. He's a heck of a guy, but there are 11 other teams and more than 1,000 other players in the league. We should be able to find something else to talk about. (Later today, expect 180 Tebow articles coming to a blog or newspaper near you.)
12:20 Florida Coach Urban Meyer:
*Meyer said first and foremost the goal for his team is to get to Atlanta and play for the SEC Championship despite all the attention being given to the Gators as possible national title contenders.
*He said it takes a while to install the offense and will be a struggle at times for Dan Mullen at Mississippi State. He noted it's all based on personnel. Another interesting thing is that he said things work much better when you have a good fullback and tight end.
*Meyer said Florida's scheduling philosophy is to play one big-time on the non-conference schedule every year and the Gators have that with Florida State. He said they added Miami as well, but it's not his goal to have the toughest schedule in America every season.
*Meyer said he didn't have any idea about the future of the Florida-Georgia game remaining in Jacksonville. Not surprisingly he did say that he loved the game and the atmosphere the way it was.
*With every player back on the two-deep at Florida this season on defense, Meyer said he's excited about the prospects for the Gators in 2009. He said the best thing they have going is rotation and depth. Also the ability to make the transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4 in a split second makes problems for an offense and with players like Carlos Dunlap and Brandon Spikes making transitions from standing up to down linemen in a heartbeat.
*Meyer noted one of his first goals when he arrived at Florida was to first of all take advantage of of the built in recruiting base five hours in each direction from Gainesville. He said the population base has grown so much in the South and the level of football has made it a prime recruiting ground for every team in the country. He noted Gainesville was the best job in the country (didn't mention Notre Dame).
*Meyer said Brandon Spikes backed out of his commitment to attend SEC Media Days when he learned about the attention all of the media attention that would be given to him. He volunteered defensive captain Ryan Stamper to come in his place instead.
*He said the Florida offense takes pride in being tough and physical. He also noted that while Urban Meyer's offense gets the reputation for being soft that it's anything from the truth and Meyer wants them to hit guys in the mouth.
*Tebow said Florida's mindset isn't to go undefeated. He said they want to win every game, but he said they wouldn't be heartbroken to lose a game and still win the national title like they did last season. He said they would take that.
*One of the problems for a team in Florida's situation is complacency. He said the way to counteract that is to worry about getting better and not to just worry about getting by. He said if they can do that then the Gators will be successful.
*Tebow said they Gators aren't worried about facing Ole Miss and getting revenge on them from last season. He said the ultimate goal is to get to the SEC Championship and not about an Ole Miss team that is not even on the schedule.
One of the few concerns for the Gators this season is who will step up at the wide receiver position with Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy gone. Tebow said he feels like they've got the guys to get the job done.
"I think they got a little bit of a chip on their shoulder because that has been the talk, how are they going to replace Percy, Murph, CI. I think those guys are going to come out and try to prove some people wrong and show that they're a good bunch of receivers. They got a little chip on their shoulder. When you have that, you can do some very, very big things.
"I think, you know, they're led by a good group of guys, in Aaron Hernandez, David Nelson, DT (Deonte Thompson), Carl Moore. Those guys want to be great. They've been waiting for their opportunity, for their moment. Now it's come. I think they're ready to go step on that field and do something amazing.