Alabama opens the season a week from Saturday, on Aug. 31, against Virginia Tech in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Before last weekend, Geno Smith, a sophomore from Atlanta, would have been expected to be a key player for the Crimson Tide. Smith started late last season at nickel back and seemed to be the number on man at that position during fall camp. He was also one of the candidates to fill the vacancy created by the departure of Dee Milliner to the NFL.
But last Saturday night/Sunday morning, following a scrimmage at Bryant-Denny Stadium that preceded two off days from practice, Smith was arrested by University of Alabama police and charged with driving under the influence.
Tuesday was the first day Coach Nick Saban met with the media to address the situation.
The coach didn’t excuse Smith, but indicated there were mitigating factors in favor of the player. “We’ve never had an issue with Geno,” Saban said. “He’s an excellent person. He’s never been in trouble before, never been in my office for anything.
“But I think this is something that everybody should learn from. When you make a bad choice, sometimes the consequences of that choice can really have a negative effect. Some of these guys don't have enough foresight to understand cause and effect, but Geno has been a really good person in the program and he just made a bad choice, a bad decision.
“Made several of them.
“Now, he's got consequences for it.”
The coach pointed out that “he’s got other things to do in-house that if he does he’ll be okay to play after that.”
Saban said his decision is discipline, not punishment, and differentiated between the two. He said that he gathered information, talked to everyone involved, talked to Smith’s parents, and then made “a decision based on what I think is appropriate.
“Not to punish the guy.
“A lot of people – and I think the press -- think this is punishment because everyone wants to know, ‘What are you going to do to the guy?’”
Saban said that punishment is only effective if it is going to change behavior. He believes his discipline – taking away something that is important to someone – “has a better impact on changing their behavior. That’s what we thought was appropriate.
“We didn’t do it to hurt anybody. We didn’t do it to satisfy anybody.
“We did it in the best interest of the player, and hopefully this is something that will help him make better decisions in the future.”
This was not the first high-profile suspension of fall camp. Earlier returning starting middle linebacker Trey DePriest had been suspended for about a week for a violation of an undisclosed team rule. DePriest was back at work Tuesday, but not in his first team position. Saban said he would have to work back to that spot.
The coach noted that defensive tackle Jeoffrey Pagan, who had missed last Saturday’s scrimmage with a slight injury, was also back in work. Also on the injury front, he said that defensive lineman Wilson Love, who has been out for about a week with an injury, was expected back soon; that nose tackle Brandon Ivory, who had a reported sprained knee in last Saturday’s scrimmage, should be back Wednesday; and that wide receiver Amari Cooper, who has been out for over a week with a foot injury, “did some individual stuff and we’ll start working him back slowly ovezr the course of this week.”
Alabama’s practice also showed a return to the offensive line line-up that had been in place up until last week, when left guard Arie Kouandjio and right tackle Austin Shepherd swapped positions. Although changes can be made at any time, on Wednesday Arie Kouandjio was back at left guard and Shepherd had returned to right tackle.
Linebacker C.J. Mosley is not only a member of Alabama’s leadership group – the peer group of Crimson Tide players – he is also a leader of the defense, where the two suspensions occurred. He said that he had spoken to DePriest during his suspension and to Smith since his arrest. He said he didn’t have to “tell” DePriest anhything.
“He knew what he did was wrong,” Mosley said. “He felt guilty. He’s going to work his way back from where he started. We all make some bad decisions, but we have to learn from them.”
He said he isn’t worried about the suspensions “because I know what type of guys they are. People sometimes make the wrong decisions, and as young men we know they’re going to have to suffer the consequences. Trey is going to suffer his and Geno is going to suffer his.
“We’re going to have to help them back, because we’re all a family.”
Wednesday marks a change for Alabama players as classes begin at The University.
“I think it’s important that guys get off to a good start, sgtart to do the right things,” Saban said. “Everybody's got to invest in the right things, on and off the field. Academics is certainly one of the things that players need to invest in doing the right thing, making a commitment to developing the right habits, so they have a chance to be successful in terms of developing a career off the field, getting an education, graduating from school, which we've had a tremendous amount of success with in the past.
“That first day of school usually affects their focus a little bit in practice, because it's a different routine for them. But hopefully we've got enough maturity to work through that tomorrow and have a good day tomorrow.”
Saban was asked if he remembered his first day of classes when he reported at Kent State as a freshman football player.
“ I remember more, the most traumatic experience for me, which is why i always have a lot of compassion for the freshmen and always try to get our upperclassmen to spend some time with the freshmen, kind of try to support him. That's something we talked about again today in the leadership meeting, that some of the freshmen need that.
“I remember not the first day of class. I remember when my parents let me off in the parking lot and drove off and I was away from home for the first time in a place where I did not know one soul. Not one person. New roommates. New room. So I remember that. I don't really remember the first day of class. But I always went to class. I always went to class. I can't say that I always paid attention but I always went to class.”
Saban said he encourages the upperclassmen to help the freshmen in this transition period.
Maybe the freshmen should take a hint from Anthony Steen, who has a “distinct” memory of his first day as a college student.
The Tide’s fifth-year senior offensive guard said, “I walked in my first class and there were about 80 people and the bright side was of those 80 people about 70 were girls, so I was excited for class. I came from a little school and every class in my high school was maybe 20 people, so it was a big adjustment.”