Saban's Spring Practice news conference, Part 1

Nick Saban held a news conference Friday in advance of the first session of spring practice. presents the first portion of his comments to media members.

We've had a really good off-season with our players. I think we made a lot of gains with a lot of players in terms of strength and conditioning. We've had about five weeks no of the off-season program, and it seems like we have more players who are more knowledgeable about the way we'd like to do things, what their expectations are and also what their standard is of what they'd like to accomplish.

We try to establish with the players from the very start of this off-season program…that the whole goal of this team is to be a nationally respected, recognized, consistent winner -which means our standard of excellence now has to go up. Last year's accomplishments are next year's expectations.

We certainly have a lot of work to do at a lot of positions, a lot of production to replace with some of the players who won't be with us. But we also have a lot of good players who we're looking forward to working with to take that over.

The attitude of the team has been exceptionally good in this off-season. This is the best off-season that we've had in terms of the number of players that are in the kind of condition and have the kind of work ethic and attitude that you'd like them to have going into spring practice.

We have some goals and objectives we want to practice this spring. I'm sure you all have some questions in your mind and (they) wouldn't be any different than the questions in our mind. The unknowns are what create the insecurities, which I call the dark side of the moon. I can ask the questions for you, but I don't have the answers. That's why we're going to have spring practice, and that's why we're going to have fall camp to let these questions answer themselves.

I think offensively. Everyone's going to say: how are you going to replace Rohan Davey and Josh Reed and the production that they had? That's a good question. Obviously, we have to develop consistency at the quarterback position whether it's Matt Mauck's continued development, Marcus Randall's continued development (or) Rick Clausen's continued development as a young quarterback. I think that's a real key to our ability to be consistent as an offensive football team.

I think there's also some guys on offense that have not had significant roles who have a lot of ability, who we're going to have to find roles for on offense. That would be guys like Bennie Brazell, Shyrone Carey, Devery Henderson – some of those kind of guys.

In trying to do that, we're probably going to look at Shyrone some as a wide receiver. We're probably going to look at Devery Henderson some as a wide receiver. Ryan Gilbert and Joseph Addai will be two young running backs who will be there with Domanick Davis in the spring.

(LaBrandon) Toefield will be out there with us. His rehab is going extremely well. He is running and he's ahead of schedule in terms of what he should and shouldn't be doing. But he will not participate in spring practice. There may be some things that he does on the side, but that's not where he is right now. It's not where we need him to be. We're not going to do anything to jeopardize his ability to continue his ability to rehab at the rate he needs to be in order to be ready for the fall.

Those are just some of the things on offense that are concerns.

Eric Edwards has been a player who has played well when he's had the opportunity to play but because we've had two pretty good tight ends around here for two years, he probably hadn't played as much as he's deserved to play. That's the guy who's the heir apparent to the tight end position. We have some competition from some younger players I think David Jones has shown a lot of potential and he'll certainly get a look at that position as well.

In the offensive line I fee a little bit better about the athleticism. We still don't have a tremendous amount of numbers there. We've got three starters back and have to replace a couple of guys.

Kade Comeaux has played quite a bit and Rob Sale has been a starter in the past. Brad Smalling has played a quite a bit. There's a little bit more experience at some of those positions to move forward.

Michael Clayton right now has kind of a low back problem that has impeded his progress…in the off-season program. I think that the off-season program was probably more difficult for a guy with a problem like he had with low back spasms than maybe actually playing football. He's going to be day-to-day in the spring because we want to manage this so he doesn't have a continuing problem.

This is not a problem we haven't seen before and has not resolved itself before, so we don't have long-term concerns about it. He's just not ready to go for the first day of practice as it is right now.

On the defensive side, the number on objective on defense is that we gave up far too many big plays last year. If we're going to get better on defense and give up fewer points, that's where it's going to start.

The NFL did a study this past year and teams that won the most games, the combination of turnover ratio and big play ratio was the most significant factor in winning and losing football games. In other words, the teams that had the highest of those two ratio won those most games in perfect order. The second (combination) was points allowed and who played good defense.

Those two things go hand-in-hand for us. At times we played pretty well on defense but our Achilles was our inability not to allow the big plays. We actually gave up fewer big plays later in the season and I think it really helped our football team.

That's not just a secondary issue. I think it starts there, but I think it's how we pressure the quarterback and affect the quarterback and all eleven guys in terms of how they do their job and how they play.

Obviously we have to replace our Mike linebacker. In the beginning, Jason LeDoux and Lionel Turner will be the two guys we put in that position. Some people might ask would you ever consider moving Bradie James there. We might. We're going to end up putting the three best linebackers on the field because those will be the three guys that make the most plays, then we'll adjust our scheme to whatever their abilities allow us to do.

In the kicking game, we work hard in the spring. Looking ahead, that's always been one of the things Virginia Tech has been very good at, and that's certainly motivation for us to do a good job and continue to develop not only our specialists but our actual teams and (those) who will have the actual opportunities to play on those teams.

I know you're going to ask me as soon as I stop talking, so I'm going to anticipate. My dad always said to close the barn door before the horse gets out, so I'm going to close it right now.

I have total confidence in the academic credibility of this institution and the people in the academic support center. We have raised $14 million to improve the quality of the academic support program by building an academic support center. We've hired one of the most respected, best academic directors in the country in Roger Grooters, and we are trying to develop the right kind of program so that our players have the best chance to have success academically.

Any problems that we have, I have total confidence in the people that are managing the investigation to fix the problems. That's why we started it, so that we could fix the problems. So everything that we have done has been in a positive way to have the best possible academic support program we have so that our players have the best chance to graduate from school.

We've improved the graduation rate here dramatically by what we've done to improve the academic support center - nothing else. We got an award for being one of the 28 schools in the country that had a 70 percent graduation rate, and we did it the right way.

And we're going to continue to do it the right way. If somebody's not going to do it the right way, we're going to fix that. If we have to replace those people, we will.

It's not our intention…not to give the players the help they need to graduate, but not to do something that's not allowed by NCAA rules. That's just the way it is.

Our whole goal is graduation. That's what we're managing these players to do – to graduate from school. We're not majoring in eligibility here. That's why we've got more guys graduating.

Does that make it a little tougher? That makes it a little tougher.

Is it the right way to do it? It's absolutely the right way to do it. And we're doing it the right way. I have confidence in the people that are doing it and their ability.

The barn door is closed on that.

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