Coach Nick Saban
A college football team needs spring practice to begin the process to find men to fill various spots on the next year’s team. Alabama Coach Nick Saban has been forthright that the Crimson Tide’s depth needs are many. Bama returned to the practice field Monday after a nine-day break and there was some good news, albeit maybe only symbolic at this time, on the personnel front.
Alabama Coach Nick Saban said it was good to be back on the practice field after The University’s spring break. He said that he was “very pleased with the way the guys came back.” Bama players were asked to work out at least three of the nine days during the break, Saban said, and it appeared a “significant number” had done that. He also speculated that “a few” did not attend to the regimen.
He also said he was pleased with the carryover, particularly from older players.
Alabama had two workouts in shorts prior to spring break. The team was in full gear on Monday. The team will practice four days a week through the A-Day Game on April 12, then conclude with a 15th practice on Monday, April 14.
Windy conditions Monday resulted in the passing game and kicking specialists being “a little sloppy,” Saban said.
“We’re pleased with the progress so far from the offense and from the defense,” the coach said. “We’re not where we need to be, but that’s why we practice.”
On several occasions in his remarks following Monday’s practice Saban mentioned the need for depth and the goal of getting as many players as possible prepared to play in the fall.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was the return of Luther Davis to the squad. Prior to the start of spring practice, Saban announced that Davis, an upcoming sophomore defensive end, had dropped out of the off-season program and would not participate in spring drills for “personal reasons.” Not unexpectedly, Saban said that Davis had some catching up to do, but pointed out that Tide coaches and players would participate in helping Davis in any way possible to take care of academic, athletic and personal issues.
Davis was in full gear, but as would be expected did not appear to be working with the first two units.
Another player not counted on this spring was in the black jersey that signifies no contact, but at least strongside linebacker Zeke Knight was in full gear. Saban said that Knight, a senior who started at linebacker last year, was not doing anything of a cariovascular nature. “That’s a medical decision and we’re not going to push that envelope,” Saban said. Knight, who had heart surgery following the 2006 season, had a health issue early in the off-season program this winter and has not been cleared for participation.
Saban said that defensive back Tremayne Coger “twisted an ankle” Monday. But wide receiver Marquis Maze, who did not participate in the first couple of practices because of a twisted ankle, was back on the practice field Monday.
Five players still not participating but with a chance to be back during the spring are defensive end Milton Talbert, tailback Glen Coffee, snapper Paul Silvey, offensive lineman Patrick Crump, and fullback Jeramie Griffin.
Spring practice is also a time for experimentation and Brandon Fanney is getting a look at a couple of positions. Last year he was a jack linebacker. Saban described that position as a “quasi defensive end” and said that Fanney will get some work at both the jack spot he has played and the defensive end position. He said the difference is that the jack has some pass coverage responsibility. He said the staff wants to see if Fanney can play both positions or if there is one spot where he should (or should not) play.
In discussing the return of Maze to the wide receiving corps, Saban said that the redshirt freshman has speed and can do things when he gets the football. “There’s a lot of improvement needed by a lot of young players,” the coach said.
Alabama lost three top wide receivers in D.J. Hall, Matt Caddell and Keith Brown from the 2007 team. Saban said that returning players Nikita Stover and Mike McCoy “show mettle.” He said that redshirt freshman Darius Hanks “of the young guys has been most impressive.
“We’re not displeased with any,” he said. “They all get lots of reps and opportunities every day.” The coach said it is more than just the ability to catch the football, noting the need for wide receivers to play with “toughness,” to be able to block, and to know what to do on both run plays and pass plays.
Saban said that upcoming sophomore Rolando McClain, the only returning starting linebacker participating, had showed leadership and toughness in playing well in Bama’s last two games of 2007 and that leadership quality had carried over through the off-season program. He said that Jimmy Johns, converted from tailback to linebacker prior to the Independence Bowl, “is learning a lot. He makes a lot of mistakes, but he has a great attitude and each mistake is an opportunity to learn. He’s handled it pretty well so far.”
He said Chavis Williams and Cory Reamer (a former defensive back) are both bigger and stronger and doing better at linebacker spots.
Saban said that players make the greatest improvement between the freshman and sophomore seasons and pointed to a couple of young defensive tackles who are showing improvement. He said Josh Chapman “has done a good job,” pointing out that Chapman used the off-season to develop a better “ability to sustain” and move better. “He has tremendous strength and leverage.” Alfred McCullough was another young defensive tackle mentioned by Saban, who also pointed out that returning players such as Lorenzo Washington are doing “pretty well.”
He also said the offensive line needs to have better depth. Saban said there were “times” last year when the offensive line performed well, but that when some players were missing that performance went down and it affected the running game and quarterback play.
“We don’t have a lot of depth anywhere,” Saban said. “In the offensive line we need a lot of depth.”