Nick Saban started his final press conference before A-Day by invoking the reliable coaching chestnut: “No one ever has a bad recruiting class, no one ever has a bad spring.”
The point he was making to the media on Thursday was that no one is ever going to stand at a podium and say that a signing class contains players that will eventually make your program a three-touchdown underdog to the Lollipop Guild. For, even if a class was rated last in the Power 5, coaches believe they know more than the people doing the rankings. For another, there is no reason to press the panic button when the start of the season is eight months away or, in the case of spring practice, five months away.
“So we had a good spring, if that answers anybody’s questions,” Saban added, leaving the listening audience just where the line was between what coaches always say, and what they mean.
In this case, I think Saban meant what he said — going into Saturday’s A-Day game, Alabama has had a good spring. That doesn’t mean the eye-rolling, shoulder-shrugging “of course they had a good spring, with all those players” kind of response. Ever since Alabama lost to Clemson in the national title game, Saban has regarded this as a rebuilding year and has, on occasion, said so.
People look at the roster, especially on offense, and scoff. But he didn’t necessarily mean blowing up the roster and starting over from scratch. What he meant was rebuilding Alabama’s confidence, the total team commitment, not to a result, but to an attitude. Not doing it right, as he says, but doing it until you can’t do it wrong and letting the results follow.
When he says “a good spring,” Saban isn’t projecting that into January 2020. Instead, think of it as part of a journey that will continue in the offseason, then into the crucible of August as the season approaches. “A good spring” doesn’t mean everything that happened in that Clemson loss (and, to an extent, in some of the games leading up to it) is now hunky-dory. It means there is a foundation in place and that building, or rebuilding, can continue.
“We had a lot of guys get a lot better,” Saban said. “A lot of guys got a lot of reps. We were pretty fortunate to get through it with a minimal amount of injuries. I really like the sort of competitive character that the team demonstrated in terms of work ethic. Some guys are starting to take leadership roles and accept the new roles that they might be in. We have a very young team. We don’t have a lot of depth. We’ll welcome the new players that we have coming in the fall, a dozen, more and maybe some of those guys can contribute to some of the issues that we have from a depth standpoint.
“We will continue to work hard to develop the players that we have.”
You might not see a full day’s work from quarterback Tua Tagovailoa or running back Najee Harris on Saturday — but Saban indicated fans will at least see them for a bit.
“The A-Day game and the format that we have in the A-Day game is to make it as much like a real game as we can,” he said. “The first offense will go against the first defense so that means that the first offense is the Crimson team. The first defense is on the White team. The first offense has the second defense on their team. The first defense has the second offense on their team so they’re playing against each other.
“We’re going to put players in a position so that they get the most experience by playing in a game-like situation.”
That doesn’t mean that every answer, every depth situation, will be resolved by Saturday night. But a productive A-Day, by a coach’s definition at least, would be another step along the way.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.