HOOVER, Ala. — When University of Alabama coach Nick Saban got his turn at the podium for SEC media days, he began by talking about his daughter getting married, Greg Sankey’s replacing Mike Slive as SEC commissioner and the recent passing of Crimson Tide legend Kenny Stabler.
It other words, it was a quiet summer for Alabama, which caused the coach to call a team meeting to reinforce what his players had been doing.
“Catch them doing it right,” he said Wednesday morning.
While there’s definitely been a different feel regarding Alabama at SEC media days, as well as a sense that the Western Division is more wide-open, the Crimson Tide has spent the offseason looking for ways to re-find their swagger and tweak their identity.
After winning back-to-back national titles, the 2013 season was derailed by the Kick Six at Auburn. And last season, the defense gave up 44 points in the Iron Bowl, followed by a 42-35 loss to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl in the inaugural College Football Playoff semifinal.
“I think at the end of the season last year, we ran out of gas a little bit,” Saban said. “We played more plays, I think by 170 on defense, which is like a couple, three more games. And our players showed it.”
However, he also pointed to the offense, which played at a faster tempo as well.
“If we’re going to be a no-huddle team like we were last year, I think we have to manage the season better with our team, because I think at the end of the season last year, we ran out of gas a little bit.”
The Crimson Tide will open training camp in early August.
Alabama’s quarterback battle will continue
Like it did in the spring, Alabama continued to split the quarterback responsibilities among five players over the summer.
Brynn Anderson/Associated Press/Associated Press
Alabama is always the biggest draw at SEC media days.
As for what he’s looking for in a starter, Saban said, “Somebody taking the bull by the horns,” which can’t be rushed and has to sort of play out.
Last year, that didn’t really start to happen until the second scrimmage of fall camp, when Blake Sims began to really separate himself from Florida State transfer Jake Coker.
Coker, now the lone senior on the depth chart, led the team statistically during Alabama’s A-Day, the final scrimmage of spring, ahead of redshirt freshman David Cornwell. Also in the mix are junior Alec Morris, sophomore Cooper Bateman and true freshman Blake Barnett.
Specific to Coker, Saban said, “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.
“We just want to see him continue to develop the kind of consistency to make the kind of decisions and judgments to process the information quickly and make quick decisions that allows him to play winning football at his position. We’re encouraged by all the things that he’s done to this point.”
There’s no timetable in place for naming a starter.
“For me, the biggest thing is building a relationship with all of those guys,” senior center Ryan Kelly said. “They’re all going to compete.”
Saban pushing for change in draft evaluation process
Saban would like to see changes in the evaluation process for underclassmen considering entering the NFL draft, especially the deadline for them to declare their intentions.
Should undergraduate draft evaluations be postponed until after the college football season ends?
Players have to decide whether to request an evaluation by the NFL Draft Advisory Board by mid-December, and this past season, they had to make a final decision by Jan. 15. However, that was just a couple of days after the national championship, and the draft was moved back to April 30 to May 2.
Alabama’s players received their grades in the middle of their preparation to face Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl.
“Our team chemistry from the SEC Championship Game to the playoff game was affected by something,” Saban said.
“So we’re trying to get ready for a game, and all of a sudden, a guy finds out he’s a first-round draft pick or a guy that thought he was a first-round draft pick finds out he’s not a first-round draft pick, and we’re trying to get ready to play a playoff game.”
Saban would like to see the deadline postponed until after players are done competing to decrease any distraction, but when he contacted the league to propose the change he was asked to first lobby some other college coaches. So far, he hasn’t had much support, because his colleagues are concerned it could affect recruiting, with national signing day in the first week of February.
Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer.
Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.