Although all 14 teams in the SEC were represented at media days in Hoover, Alabama, this week, all eyes were once again on the Alabama Crimson Tide—from the masses of fans clamoring for autographs to the hundreds of reporters in the interview rooms.
The defending SEC champions, who were picked by the media to win the SEC West in 2015 but not the conference, were the biggest draw of the week.
Head coach Nick Saban took the podium Wednesday morning and wasted no time in making some comments that created quite a stir in the college football world.
He was joined by running back Kenyan Drake, offensive lineman Ryan Kelly and linebacker Reggie Ragland at the annual event. Like their head coach, these veterans answered plenty of questions on their preparation for the upcoming season in Tuscaloosa.
Now that the dust has settled from media days, here are a few key quotes and takeaways from Saban and the rest of the Alabama contingent in Hoover.
Saban, the Sugar Bowl and a storm
Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports
Saban caused what was perhaps the biggest controversy of the entire media days event Wednesday when he mentioned his desire for the NFL Draft Advisory Board to move back their grading process for interested underclassmen.
He mentioned the draft grades having an effect on Alabama prior to January’s Sugar Bowl loss to eventual national champion Ohio State.
“I just felt like, in our experience last year, our team chemistry from the SEC Championship Game to the playoff game was affected by something,” Saban said.
Last year, juniors contemplating the decision to leave school early for the NFL had to submit a request for a draft grade by Dec. 15. Saban said they received those grades “around Christmas” and right during the middle of bowl preparation.
“So I think a week, 10 days [added to the process] would be beneficial,” Saban said. “And I think a rule that says you don’t get information to players on draft status until after they’ve completed their college competition would be beneficial.”
Saban’s comments were immediately taken as an excuse for the loss to Ohio State by media members and college football fans all over the country, but he denied that in a later interview with the SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum.
Saban: “It wasn’t an excuse at all for losing to Ohio State. There’s no excuse.”
— Saturday Down South (@SDS) July 15, 2015
The Alabama head coach had support from his players on this issue and its effects on the Crimson Tide prior to last season’s playoff game.
Did NFL draft grades affect Sugar Bowl mindset for Alabama? Ryan Kelly: “To say that it didn’t affect anybody is obviously a lie.”
— Zac Ellis (@ZacEllis) July 15, 2015
“I think it should be pushed back,” Ragland told Sports Illustrated‘s Andy Staples. “It would give people more time to make the right decisions for their lives. If you’ve got to rush it, you’re going to make a bad decision.”
No matter how much criticism Saban’s comments received, they were good proposals for change in the draft process and gave interesting insight on what was going on behind the scenes at Alabama prior to the loss in New Orleans.
Here comes Coker
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QB Jake Coker
Saban was quick to say no one has emerged as the leading candidate for Alabama’s starting quarterback job, but he did give some criteria for the winner.
“That’s going to be one of the keys to the drill in terms of somebody taking the bull by the horns at that position, being assertive, playing with confidence, distributing the ball and executing in a positive way, being a good decision-maker and showing leadership at the same time,” Saban said.
Senior Jake Coker, one of the two presumed front-runners in the race, received some high praise from the head coach during his main media session Wednesday. Saban spoke of Coker on the SEC Network’s broadcast of media days:
Jake Coker has done an outstanding job for us. I think he’s made a tremendous amount of improvement. I think that a better understanding, better knowledge of the system, better knowledge of what we expect, what’s expected of him in our offense are all things that have contributed to his confidence and his performance level.
In terms of leadership, the veteran Coker isn’t overly vocal, but his teammates say he is still showing the qualities of someone who could take over the Alabama offense in place of Blake Sims this season.
“He’s not the most outspoken person,” Drake told AL.com’s Michael Casagrande. “But he’s leading by example, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the competition as it progresses.”
Focusing on the freshmen
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
S Ronnie Harrison
Alabama’s three player representatives at media days each mentioned some freshmen who were catching their eyes this offseason.
“Really, the entire freshman class has impressed me,” Drake told Casagrande. “They came in with the hunger and a lot of will to learn from the older [players] who have been here, and they’ve definitely taken on even leadership roles.”
According to Casagrande, Ragland was “impressed with cornerbacks Kendall Sheffield and Minkah Fitzpatrick, safety Ronnie Harrison, … running back Damien Harris and receiver Calvin Ridley.”
“I think they’re going to get a shot to play this year, but I tell them all the time, every time [Saban] talks about the process, the process works,” Ragland told Casagrande. “I’m a testament to it myself. It took me a couple of years before I could understand what coach was really talking about, and I started to see everything clearer and better.”
Kelly’s freshman to watch on the offensive line was guard Brandon Kennedy, who enrolled early at Alabama and went through some of spring practice before suffering an injury.
A super summer so far
Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports
RB Kenyan Drake
After the arrests of four Tide players in the spring, Bleacher Report’s Marc Torrence put “stay out of trouble” in his summer checklist for Alabama earlier this year.
The Crimson Tide have done just that this summer, and Saban is pleased with their progress.
“[I told] them how well I think they’re doing this summer—working hard, everybody’s all into doing things the way we want them to do them, not a lot of negative energy around, a lot of positive energy, a lot of good character, a lot of positive leadership,” Saban said.
The spring had several headaches for the Alabama program, but everything has calmed down as fall camp approaches.
For Saban and every Alabama fan, that’s the best news you can get out of the long offseason. As Saban said on the SEC Network:
The good news at this time of year is there’s no news. If there’s no news, that means your players are doing the right things personally, they’re doing a good job academically, they’re all into what they should be doing to get prepared for the season, and that has certainly been the case with our team this summer and since spring practice.
They’ve done extremely well in terms of their decision-making and judgment.
All quotes taken from SEC Network broadcast unless otherwise noted.
Justin Ferguson is an on-call college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.