In what has generally been a very good month and a half of so of avoiding injuries, the Alabama football team had a serious injury in the bye week of practice. Otherwise, things are going well as the No. 1 ranked Crimson Tide has a bye in the second week of the college football season.
Alabama Coach Nick Saban announced Thursday that sophomore defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson had suffered a knee injury Wednesday. Saban said the injury would require surgery, but gave no other details. “They’ll know for sure when they do the surgery, and we’ll let you know what the outcome of the surgery is.”
The Crimson Tide worked Monday through Wednesday on correcting mistakes from the season-opening 35-10 win over Virginia Tech. Thursday Bama did its first work on Texas A&M, Alabama’s opponent in College Station a week from Saturday, Sept. 14.
Saban said the team would practice Friday and then take off Saturday and Sunday, “and then try to get into a little more normal work week next week.”
He said “the players responded very, very well” to the introduction of the Texas A&M game plan.
The Tide coach said the preparation for Texas A&M is also preparation for the Aggies’ outstanding quarterback, Johnny Manziel, winner of the Heisman Trophy last year as a freshman. “That's probably one of the most difficult things to simulate in practice,” Saban said. “You have to have a very athletic guy who's got some quarterback skills and some quarterback instincts. (Back-up quarterback) Blake Sims is probably a guy who can do that for us a little bit athletically.
“But I don't think that you can ever simulate it because you never know for sure what the guy's going to do when he scrambles. I think the big thing is, is the defensive payers have to be disciplined and when the play gets extended they have to be disciplined in their execution beyond what is normal is for them. Because the play gets extended you've got to watch your guy if you're in man to man. You've got to match people in your zone. You've got to have good pass rush lanes. You can't get pushed by the quarterback. You've got to be relentless in your effort to continue to push the pocket, chase the guy so he can't make plays.
“It's very, very difficult to simulate. But we'll use the best athletes that we have to be able do that in practice to help our players get ready for it.”
Although it was a bye week, the second week of the season was not one of leisure for the Crimson Tide.
“We had a tough week, good week, a lot of hard work done,” Saban said. “I think we made some improvement as a team. It seemed like the players invested in the week the right way in terms of trying to make improvement.
“I think it needed to be a hard week. I told the players that because I believe we need to improve. I think we can all be committed to doing more, capable of doing more in terms of commitment, discipline, being a good teammate, caring for each other, preparing better for the game so that we can go out and execute and do our job. You show what your desire is by what you do every day, and I think the players responded and did a really good job.
“Obviously we've got a big challenge coming up next weekend playing against a very, very good team. A lot of outstanding players, fantastic quarterback and a very tough place to play. So it'll challenge our mettle in a lot of ways, especially our mental toughness, our ability to sustain, our ability to execute in difficult circumstances, especially when things don't go our way. So that's kind of the focus.”
Saban described the preparation for Texas A&M (and all opponents as coming “in stages.”
He said that coaches look at videotape of upcoming opponents “before spring practice. We make a menu of things that we want to work on during spring practice that are typically things that are different than what we would see from our offense when we play against each other because you practice against each other quite a bit in the spring.
“Then we do another study in the summer time of every opponent and do a scouting report, a pretty thorough scouting report on every opponent.
“The way I do it is we go from backward to forward. If you ask me when I looked at them, I looked at the last game of the season long ago and the first games right before we started camp. That's kind of how we approach it so the stuff that is more current is in our mind.
“Then, we also make the same menu of things for fall camp, which we work on sometime in fall camp. Then when we go through the week of preparation, it's really not the first time players have seen some of the things that we're going to do or try to do, especially on people who run a little bit different offense than what we see.”
Saban said that Bama would “have a day or two where we practice with crowd noise, whether it’s inside or outside. Players have to operate where they can't communicate by talking. We always do that when we play on the road. Some places are more difficult to play than others. Players just have to have a lot of poise. We've played in a lot of difficult places. Most of the time the guy that gets affected is the quarterback. The atmosphere at Penn State, LSU, some of the other places we played we've been able to operate in. That experience helps a lot.”
Although Alabama won the national championship last year, it wasn’t a perfect season. Bama suffered a loss at the hands of Texas A&M. Still, Saban discounted the “revenge” theory. Asked about special motivational posters or the like, the coach said, “We really didn't do anything in the offseason. I think the players pretty much realize the circumstances that we didn't play very well in the game last year; they played a lot better than we did. We couldn't make up for an early lead and I think the players understand what it takes to play against this kind of offensive team and how important it is for the entire team to play well against this team. We really haven't had anything special going on in the offseason.”
On a personal note, Saban offered “thoughts and prayers” to his Kent State college coach, Don James. James, who went on to fame as head coach at Washington, has been hospitalized. Saban said,
“There're a couple of coaches that I've had ... you often ask me about mentors. My high school coach passed away in the last year or so. I heard today that Don James, my college coach who I'm very close to -- who really is a great mentor to me -- is in the hospital. I'd just like to take this opportunity to publicly say to him and his family that our thoughts and prayers are with him. I hope he feels better and can't tell him how much we appreciate all that he's done for us and our career.”