Alabama Notebook: The Return of Nick Saban
Twelve national titles, twenty-one SEC championships, and enough All-Americans in their proud history to fill out more than a few rosters, the fans expect more than what the previous regime accomplished.
Facing probably the toughest firing line thus far at SEC Media Days, Nick Saban stood at the podium, took some seemingly loaded questions and answered them all. There was no political dodging as the questions about his integrity and his salary were early and often. Then there was the team – something Saban said he couldn't wait to put in the spotlight.
One of Nick Saban's opening comments about the Southeastern conference seemed to get lost among all of the personal questions. It was direct in delivery and spoke volumes about what every team faces this season in the SEC.
"I've been asked this question on several occasions already today. What's the difference in the league now than when you left? And my response to that is: It seems like it's even tougher now than ever before. The competition from top to bottom, the great coaches in the league, the great programs, more good teams, lots of great players, that's what makes this an outstanding venue."
Well, now there's another great coach looking to turn around a 6-7 team from last year.
Saban on his reception by passionate Alabama fans:
"Well, we certainly appreciate the passion and the support that our fans have, the excitement they have about the program. It was certainly heartfelt by the Saban's to have 92,000 people at the spring game. That's the kind of positive energy that I think is going to be important for us to sustain as a program and will be beneficial to us to become successful in the future."
Saban on his integrity after the Miami to Alabama mess:
"When this job opened, I said I wasn't interested in it. I said I wouldn't talk to anyone until the season was over. My focus was to help Miami players try to finish the season in a successful way and this was not something we would entertain until the season was over. When I made those statements I believed them. When the season was over this was something we decided to look into. When the season was over, as we sometimes do, my wife and I sat down and decided that maybe this is something we should look in to. We love college football. It had nothing to do with the Miami Dolphins or the NFL. We love college football."
Saban on restoration of the winning tradition at Alabama:
"It's all about team chemistry. That's important. I think that everybody on the team, not just the players, I'm talking about the administration, our fans and supporters. They all have a role in how we can project positive energy so we can build and have a successful program. Being a team is really important. Being responsible is important."
Saban on realistic expectations of the program:
"Well, I think, if you just assess, we had a 6 and 7 team last year. You know who's coming back. You know what starters (are coming back).We're going to win with people and our ability to develop those people to their full potential.
Our success has always been relative to the team of people that we've assembled around us, not necessarily what we've done. I think that's important. There's no waving a magic wand and making everything happen. We'll work hard to go from where we are right now to try to get to where we want to be. There's no real formula for what the time table to do that is.
Hey, we want to win. We want our expectations to be to win. All right? We want to do the things that we need to do to give our players the best opportunity to do that every day."
Returning quarterback John Parker Wilson will be asked to lead the Alabama offense this fall.
Changes to the offensive philosophy can always effect first year coaches and players alike. With a previous coach and a present coach who share similar offensive philosophies, the transition can make things much easier.
"Coach Shula's offense and Coach Saban's offense are really similar. It has a few more spread option plays involved, but it's designed to get the ball in the playmakers hands," says Center Antoine Caldwell, "That makes it similar in that we have the same people to run the offense."
Much of the offense will come from the hands of senior wide receiver D.J. Hall and the right arm of returning starting quarterback John Parker Wilson. Hall can really excel as senior WR Keith Brown will eliminate defenses keying on Hall. The two receivers offer plenty of options for Wilson, who needs to improve his decision making. He threw some costly interceptions in 2006 as a sophomore, but his size, strong arm and ability to scramble will help him as he improves.
Losing Le'Ron McClain and Kenneth Darby out of the backfield opens up a void that can turn into a tremendous weakness for the Crimson Tide. There's really been no one to stand up and show he's the man to carry the ball. It might force Parker to throw more often, creating a very predictable offense.
A position generally regarded as thin, the defensive front seven were a focal point in spring practice. It still remains thin, but Saban remained optimistic about its possibilities if all involved can adapt.
"We did make some progress and improvement in the front seven. We don't have a lot of depth at that position. We don't have a lot of size. I think the most important thing is that we continue to progress and improve and get the players a little more comfortable with their ability to execute consistently," said Saban, "It's a new system for them and they made some mistakes trying to learn, but that's a part of the process."
Senior CB Simeon Castille is such a terror on defense, his ability to lock down receivers opens up so many different blitz packages. Coach Saban loves building a defense – something he really needs to do at Alabama. According to Castille, Saban is the man to do it.
"I've been playing defensive back for a long time, but it's amazing how much he taught me in just one spring. I was excited when I heard he was coming because I knew he was a defensive guy. In the spring, I got to see just how involved he was. Every time I, or someone at defensive back, would do something wrong, he'd be right there to correct us and teach us what techniques to use."
Aside from Castille, the next standout defender will be LB Prince Hall. Only a sophomore, Hall has the intangibles that can't be taught. He gets to the ball. His leadership, as a sophomore, will help immensely. With only four starters returning from a year ago, the defense will present the biggest challenge.
Like South Carolina in the 2005 season, national attention will be focused on Saban and the Crimson Tide this fall. There are so many question marks at Alabama, especially on the defense; it'll be interesting to watch Saban go to work.
In a tough conference, like Steve Spurrier, it'll be quite a task, but Nick Saban and his players seem up to it.
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