Some August days at Alabama football practice seem like what they are — preparatory work in the pre-season. That’s been the case for the week or so, but Wednesday had a different feel with the heat, the full pads and a Nick Saban press conference that was all business.
Saban wasn’t rude, or evasive, or unprofessional. He didn’t go on any tirade that will make a sound byte on SportsCenter. It did have a down-to-business feel that made it apparent early on that Saban would stand for no nonsense on this Wednesday.
For instance, he was asked about Alabama’s 2020 schedule, which was finalized when the Southeastern Conference released the playing dates for league games in that season. The question was fair. Football scheduling is always being talked about, occasionally by Saban himself, and there are some highlights (Georgia on Sept. 19) and some variations (Texas A&M will be the opponent on the Saturday before the Auburn game, after years of UA playing a non-conference opponent in that slot.) Today, however, was not the day for 2020 talk.
“I haven’t even looked at the 2020 schedule,” Saban said. “We play Duke in three weeks or whatever. I don’t have any reaction to the schedule. We work hard to try to have the best schedule we can have. It’s our goal to try to get two Power 5 teams to play. You guys act like we pick who we play. We don’t pick who we play. We have to get someone to play. That’s what we try to do. I can’t tell you who we play so I can’t respond to something I haven’t even looked at.”
Aside from treading on some previously-tilled earth — the difficulty of Alabama finding non-conference opponents these days — Saban was clearly focused on the present, not on whatever the SEC has released.
“I’ve been fairly pleased with the way the players have gone about their work so far,” he said. “I think that one of the things that we have to do is get more guys to play winning football even when the circumstances get difficult. One of the terms that I came up with is, ‘Run hard when it gets hard to run.’ I think some of the younger guys on the team, it’s hot and you’re tired, you’re not used to that many reps. But we need those reps so we can practice until we can’t get it wrong, not just until we get it right.”
Saban mentioned a few players in a positive light — running backs Brian Robinson and freshman Trey Sanders, defensive tackle Raekwon Davis and a couple of others — when responding to direct questions. For the most part, though, he seemed determined to wait on Saturday, when the first scrimmage of August raises the intensity even further.
“We’re not really trying to play it like a game so that everyone is getting more game-ready,” he said. “I think the next step is to put the players out there, the coaches aren’t out there, make it like a game situation (and) be able to do the things they can do so we can evaluate them as football players. What is their ability to execute? Do they have the kind of toughness we need? Can they sustain and focus whether they made a good play or a bad play the last play?
“We don’t have to really decide who we’re going to have to coach this early in camp.
“I think how they respond on Saturday goes a long way in telling you if a guy has the right stuff relative to the maturity to be trustworthy to go out there and do a job, whether that’s special teams, offense, defense or whatever part of our team.”
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @cecilhurt