The interruption in Alabama spring football practice may be coming at a bad time for upcoming senior…
Two Suspended For Start Of Drills
Alabama was scheduled to begin spring football practice Friday afternoon, a cold, wet day in Tuscaloosa. Following practice on Friday, the team will be off during The University's spring break. The team will resume practice on Monday, March 23.
Alabama will have 15 practices during the spring. There will be three scrimmages, including the A-Day Game that concludes spring drills on April 18. That game, which begins at 2 p.m. CDT, will be televised nationally by ESPN. Alabama has drawn huge crowds for its spring games, including a full house of 92,138 in 2007.
In the past, Alabama has had closed scrimmages on the two Saturdays prior to A-Day. This year there will be a change. The scrimmages will still be closed, but one will be Wednesday, April 1, the second Friday, April 10. Practices are Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, although there will not be a Saturday, April 11, practice, which is Easter weekend.
Both the opening practice and the second practice on March 23 are designated as learning sessions with very limited contact. Saban said the players will be encouraged to work out during spring break at least three times and to "stretch and stride on Sunday (March 22)" before returning to Tuscaloosa.
He said the coaching staff would "take a couple of days off," but that the week is a good time to get some work done on next season's opponents and other matters.
Prince Hall, a 5-11, 235-pound senior-to-be, was not listed in last fall's media guide because of a suspension during last spring. He was allowed to return to the team and served a two-game suspension to start the fall. He was a backup to Rolando McClain at middle linebacker and played in 11 games, including playing on kickoff coverage teams.
Brandon Fanney, a 6-4, 257-pound upcoming junior, came to Alabama as a defensive lineman, but made the switch to the jack linebacker position, which is something of a linebacker-end hybrid. He started all 14 games for Bama in the Crimson Tide's 12-2 season last year and was in on 64 tackles.
Although both suspensions are of indefinite term, Saban differentiated in announcing them. He said that Hall was suspended indefinitely. He said that Fanney would miss the opening practice and beyond that the coach wasn't sure how long he would be held out.
Other than what had previously been announced, there are no injury issues, Saban said. Wide receiver Earl Alexander (shoulder) and tailback Roy Upchurch (neck) will participate, but will not have contact, at least in the early going.
Saban said players generally had done well in the Fourth Quarter Program, the winter off-season work of strength and conditioning.
As Saban has pointed out in the past, there is no reason to come out of spring football with positions settled. The purpose of spring practice, Saban said, is to "give every player a chance to be successful." He said the 15 days or practice are part of the process of players earning one another's confidence, respect and trust, and every player learning to do his job as well as possible in order to make the team as good as possible.
Saban said players have to learn to eliminate mistakes. "It's hard enough to win," he said. "You don't want to lose with mental mistakes."
He said as players become more competent, they become more confident.
Saban said the team needs to learn to "finish plays and finish games. We need to learn to finish and we need to learn to dominate."
Spring is also a time for experimentation, and Saban said nothing should be made of occasional moves of players. He said that, as announced, B.J. Scott would move from wide receiver to cornerback. He had also said that an outside linebacker–and he has twice mentioned Jerrell Harris in this context–would get a look at inside linebacker. (The Prince Hall situation could factor into this.)
Quarterback is an important position, but Saban said he wouldn't lose any sleep in the competition this spring. He said spring teaching begins at "square one" so that everyone can be taught. He said the quarterback will be determined based on performance and leadership and "a lot of intangibles."
Saban said that last year he was confident that quarterback Greg McElroy, who was the little-used backup to John Parker Wilson the past two years, "could go in and win." McElroy didn't have that task and had only a little playing time, none with the game on the line. But, Saban said, he has had two years of learning the offense and has had "everything but game experience.
Like all players, Saban said, McElroy has room for improvement.
McElroy's top competition will come from redshirt freshman Star Jackson. "He's really done well in the off-season," Saban said. "He's gotten a little bigger and a little stronger. He's very athletics and has a good attitude." The coach said Jackson "has a tremendous amount of potential."
Saban said no one has a job wrapped up, not even a returning starter. He said everyone needs to believe that he has an opportunity, and pointed out that competition makes players better.
Saban declined to comment on the current NCAA look into the matter of players improperly receiving textbooks, noting that University President Dr. Robert E. Witt is the voice on that issue. "As I understand it we did a fantastic job," Saban said. "I'm very supportive of what we've done. We uncovered the problem. As you remember we suspended five players for four games, which is what we were told was the penalty for football. It was painful.