Sometimes Alabama football seems to be awash in injuries, with Nick Saban listing casualties (of varying degree, to be fair) like he is calling roll in an infirmary. Whether research would show that UA actually has more injuries than anyone else isn’t clear — that’s a lot of research, and some schools are more open about who is hurt and who is not than other schools. (Saban is a model of transparency, to the extent that privacy laws allow, when it comes to medical matters.)
One wonders if the programs in college football’s top tier — Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma, Ohio State and a few others — have more injuries, or just more injury awareness. The latter is possible, for a couple of reasons. First, those programs — and it’s been this way at Alabama for a decade now — simply have far greater media exposure than others, both from the number of outlets that cover the football team and in the attention that they attract from the big media outlets. ESPN, in one incarnation or another, was in Tuscaloosa three times last week, doing interviews, filming segments, dispatching digital print reporters or on-air personalities like Holly Rowe and Maria Taylor. That exposure raises the profile and I’m guessing it isn’t the case in Starkville or New Brunswick.
Semi-related to that is the fact that at Alabama (and the others mentioned) even the younger players or backups are fairly famous from the recruiting process. From one perspective, Alabama freshman Trey Sanders — scheduled for foot surgery soon, according to Saban — could be accurately described, in a monotone, as a “third-string running back.” On the other hand, he is also “the No. 1 running back recruit in the nation last year.” Third, Alabama fans are among those 24-hour-a-day fanatics for whom every morsel matters. Other programs do have injuries, after all — Pitt lost its best defensive lineman last week, and Oklahoma lost its most experienced defensive back.
However, with all that said, Alabama does seem to have angered some curse-casting entity and it does have an effect. Saban went on a mini-rant about it last year, peeved at the perception that the Crimson Tide could simply manufacture (through a process that probably doesn’t need to be aired again at the moment) replacement players. Yes, Alabama recruits well.
Yes, Alabama has roster depth that most other programs can’t approach. But modern-day football, which can clip six or seven NFL early entrants at the top of the experience ladder annually, already causes rosters to skew a bit younger than they once did. Add in injuries, and suddenly you’ve got positions that have almost no experience at all. Saban mentioned Saturday that the “first” defense on Saturday — without Dylan Moses or Josh McMillan, LaBryan Ray or DJ Dale (a precocious freshman himself) — was remarkably green. That affects practice. If the first defense is thin, what about the No. 2 defense that the first offense is scrimmaging? The ripple effect goes in all directions before a single game has been played.
It’s not time to push the panic button yet. Some players who sat out on Saturday will still be available in time to prepare for the Duke game. Assuming the worst, a popular Tuscaloosa pastime, may not be necessary. But it’s also not fair to assume that Saban can wave a magic wand and heal every injury — or turn every freshman into a game-tested junior overnight.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.