Even when there’s the perception of turmoil, University of Alabama football fans remain supremely confident. They can debate all day about quarterbacks, to choose a random example, but when you ask their expectations given Option “A,” they’ll say “national championship.” But what if Nick Saban chooses Option “B”? “National championship.” There may not be an Option “C” on the table, but if there is? “National championship.” You get the point.
But as early reports from NFL training camps come in, you have to wonder if everything can be replaced at the same level as it was during 2017. Leave the quarterbacks aside for a moment. Can everything else be at the same level, or so close to that level that some improvement in other areas will make up for it?
Saban does not have the penchant for poor-mouthing that some coaches in Alabama’s past might have had. He doesn’t cause listeners to leave a media opportunity convinced that the Crimson Tide will be lucky to play .500 football. He’s pretty direct about having a good team, but when he talks about areas that will require patience, he hardly seems to be heard even if he is shouting.
“This year’s team, we lost a lot of really good football players, especially on defense,” Saban said before August practice began. “We had 10 guys sign NFL contracts. So there’s going to be a lot of opportunity for a lot of young players at every position. We’ve got a few guys coming back up front, we’ve got a few linebackers coming back, but we still have a lot of opportunity for a lot of young players, especially in the secondary, where we lost the most players.
“So a lot of the questions that you’re going to ask me about these young players and how they develop, they are all things that are yet to be determined. They’re still going to be determined in the future in terms of how they do … in fall camp, and when they develop the maturity to go out and play winning football for us.”
Still, you hear the reports from the pro camps. Bo Scarbrough is gaining tough yards for the Cowboys, although there does seem to be enough depth to replace him. In the Green Bay Packers’ camp, J.K. Scott boomed a half-dozen prodigious punts, including one 62-yard, five-second hang time kick that almost certainly violated Canadian airspace. No one expects another J.K. Scott at Alabama for a generation or so, and the reports on Skyler DeLong’s kicking in the open Saturday scrimmage were positive. Still, there are going to be games in which the opponent will pick up five yards here or five yards there, or maybe even a big return. Those yards might not matter — but they might.
The Redskins seem to be thrilled with Shaun Dion Hamilton, not their highest draft choice from Alabama but the defensive rookie who seems to be picking things up at the fastest pace. Hamilton had the same role at Alabama before he was hurt against LSU, and while the Crimson Tide made adjustments, someone has to fill Hamilton’s role (and, as Saban made clear, has to stay healthy.)
It’s understandable that people like to focus on controversy, and, if they are worriers, to fret over the possible effects. In the meantime, though, an entire team has to be developed — rebuilt entirely, at some positions — even if it happens without the glare of a big spotlight.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.