29 August 2009
The Alabama football team held a full pads practice in the rain on Saturday as it speeds towards the beginning of the football season. How close is it at this point? One week from the time I am writing this, Alabama and Virginia Tech will be playing. There was a Division II football game on television today, and most of the nation's high school program's kicked off their season last night - including Alabama commitment Phillip Sims playing and winning on ESPN-U.
The team has begun to work on Virginia Tech, while still balancing in some time continuing work on fundamentals. That will stop on Monday, when the Tide will shift its full focus to the Hokies, and the first game of the 2009 season.
Here's what you need to know:
Terrence Cody was back at practice today. The big fellow had missed three practices after coming down with a case of the flu. Coach Saban remarked in his press conference that he was pleased with how much Terrence was able to do, including "all of the running at the end." Obviously Terrence wasn't at 100%, but he'll have an off day tomorrow to recover and be ready on Monday.
The flip-side of Cody being back at practice was the absence of three other Tide players - Marquis Maze, Alfred McCullough, and Darrington Sentimore. Coach Saban indicated that the protocol from the medical staff is to remove any player who has a fever from practice. It's not definite that these guys have the flu, but they were obviously showing symptoms, and missed today. If things progress as they should, all three guys should be back by Tuesday.
There were lots of questions posed to Coach Saban today about special teams, and the Coach was surprisingly candid. He remarked about how he felt that a team needed to win two of the three aspects of a football game (offense, defense, special teams) in order to win a game, and that he put a lot of emphasis on all three. When asked about some younger guys that could see time on special teams, he mentioned Rod Woodson and Trent Richardson (as well as redshirt sophomore Demetrius Goode).
Woodson isn't a shock, as many folks had him pegged as a head-hunter entering fall camp. He's big and fast, and blocked at the safety position by a bunch of talented upper-classmen. Woodson is a player that craves contact, so seeing him as a gunner or wedge buster on kick and punt coverage should be fun to watch.
Coach Saban indicated that Richardson might see time as a returner, or a coverage guy. Julio Jones is the returner at the kick off return spot opposite Javier Arenas, but his ankle injury could keep him out of that role. Richardson seems like a likely candidate to step in, if that ends up being the case. Him playing kick coverage is a bit of a surprise, though his size and athleticism certainly makes him a strong candidate.
After mentioning Trent's possible play on coverage, Coach Saban went on a mini-rant about people thinking that offensive players can't play on coverage units because of a fear of injury. "What if Javy gets hurt?" was all the Coach had to say, but he went on to talk about how difficult it is for second unit players to make an NFL team if they don't have the ability to play on special teams. I love it when the Coach goes into his football philosophy, and I wish we'd get more of it.
One guy he didn't mention for special teams play was Jonathan Atchison - who I was guessing would see time there. Coach Saban would probably warn against assuming him not being mentioned meant he wouldn't play, but there is more evidence that he isn't likely a part of the early season plan. Atchison began working on the scout team on Friday, with his spot in the sam rotation being taken by Alex Watkins. That's a new position for Watkins, and one that should be more suited to his size and skill set.
One ancillary benefit of the young talent being amassed by Coach Saban is the improvement of players on the scout team. Lots of teams load their scout team with walk-ons and lower tier players. Bama is now working a lot of three and four star players on the scout team alongside the usual walk-ons. While the walk-ons certainly deserve a lot of credit for their work ethic and overall willingness to get killed in practice everyday, it's tough for those guys to truly simulate an opposing star player.
When guys like Atchison and Eddie Lacy are working on your scout teams, you actually have players that are physically capable of accurately preparing your team for Saturdays. The same could be said for guys like Michael Bowman and Kendall Kelly - who don't look like they will be in the plans for the opening week. Again, Brad Smelley didn't see the field until after the Ole Miss game in 2008, so a redshirt is not guaranteed for any of these guys. But I don't think those two young receivers are in the top seven guys at the position right now - while Kevin Norwood looks to be. So unless they can contribute on special teams, it just doesn't make sense to play them. Kenny Bell's injury has set him back considerably, and could have him in the same situation.
Of course, if the group that couldn't see one guy establish himself as a consistent secondary threat to Julio Jones continues to struggle in 2009... well, then all bets will be off, and any or all of those three freshmen could see time.
The big news of the day came off of the field, though, as Alabama announced that Coach Saban has signed a contract extension to keep him at Alabama through the 2017 season. That is eight seasons beyond the upcoming 2009 season, and should go a long way towards quieting a lot of the speculation that the Coach might be looking for other opportunities. Having a contract doesn't guarantee that he'll stay that long, but I have a hard time believing that he would sign that long of an extension if he had plans to do anything but Coach Alabama for the remainder of his career.
The Tide will have Sunday off before resuming GAME WEEK
practice on Monday.