“Some of these comments I made yesterday. Kind of unusual to have these back-to-back circumstances with you. You know, it’s great to be back in camp. It’s really good to get out there with the players and start to practice yesterday. You always look forward to the challenges of the season. You’re also looking forward to the challenges of things that you need to work on to try to develop your team, the individuals on your team so that they have a good chance to be successful so we can go compete at a very high level. I think everybody has got to say, and I said it to them, I said it yesterday, ‘What will we be in 30 days? What are you willing to do to get there? What sacrifices do you have to make? What relationships and leaderships do we have to build so that we have sort of the intangibles that we need to compete at a high level on a consistent basis?’
“Discipline and toughness are two things that go a long way in helping players develop that, because it certainly helps them sustain in difficult circumstances. I think fall camp is a difficult circumstance that a lot of players have to learn how to work through. How do you stay focused when you’re tired? Are you going to make mental errors? Are you going to loaf? Are you going to do the wrong things? That’s really kind of enduring and not really showing the mental toughness to sustain. You have to have a strong breaking point if you’re going to be a good player and a great competitor. We’re trying to create a unique excellence with every player on our team. That’s the only way we’ll have a good team. Everybody has choices to make. Are you going to endure, are you going to try to survive this camp or are you actually going to make a commitment to striving to be the best player that you can be? If you’re going to impose your will on somebody else, the first thing you have to do is impose your will on yourself, so that you can do the things like you need to do them.
“It’s kind of interesting that I talk about all these things. We had Eric Thomas speak last night and he talked about the difference between ‘being beast’ and just winning. There’s a difference. When you’re the beast, you never hold back, you don’t just do what you have to do to have success, you’re striving every day to be the best that you can be. That’s certainly what we would like for our players every day to accept every challenge, to try to thrive on those challenges the best they can so they can improve and be the best players that they can be.
“We enjoy Fan Day. It’s a little bit unusual, the way we sort of changed the rules that we’re not a little more down the road in practice before we have this. This is probably the first time we’ve ever had it where we’re in shorts and helmets because we’re going through the acclimation period, which I think, incidentally, is really, really good for players. It’s probably good for player safety. It’s good for the players to be able to step their way back into football in terms of the gear that they wear, the amount of contact that you have and those type of things. There’s a lot of opportunity for a lot of players on our team at a lot of positions. We’re trying to get some of the young players on the team to take advantage of these circumstances to sort of develop the consistency they need to be able to do their job on a consistent basis and develop the respect and trust of their teammates.
“You’re going to get the opportunity to talk to two new coordinators today. The transition that we’ve had with these guys has been pretty painless because we really didn’t change offenses, we really didn’t change defenses. We didn’t change terminology for the players. So we have an Alabama defense and we have an Alabama offense. It was an Alabama defense and an Alabama offense last year. Just because we change the people that implement those things doesn’t mean that we’re going to change everything about it. That’s the way it is. I know you’d rather hear something else and ask ‘What’s going to be different about your offense, Mike? What’s going to be different about your defense, Tosh?’ The fact of the matter is, it’s Alabama’s offense and it’s Alabama’s defense. So… Sorry.”
You said replacing defensive production is your number one concern this fall. Why do you feel that way?
“Well that’s a really easy answer. Do you all know how many players we lost last year on defense? And how many of those guys got drafted? And how many of those guys we have to replace? So it’s a pretty easy answer to figure out that because of the experience that we lost, the number of players that we lost, the opportunity that creates for inexperienced players, especially in the secondary where we lost six players who did most of the playing. We have not one starter back, a guy that started two games, I think maybe. At linebacker, both guys started a few games, both guys were hurt a little bit. We’ve got three guys in the front that have ever really played in the game before. That’s probably the least amount of returning experienced players that we’ve ever had. So as much as you guys look at statistics and as much as you guys look at stuff on paper, that should be pretty easy for you guys to figure out.”
Follow up on Tosh, since he hasn’t been a coordinator, what were some of the qualities you’ve seen that made you comfortable with promoting him?
“He has done a great job of recruiting for us. I think he’s really developed as a coach. I think he’s taken it upon himself to not want to be a guy that was viewed just as a recruiter or just as a guy that could coach the front. He’s really, really committed himself to learning the big picture, the coverages, the secondary. I spent a significant amount of time with him doing that. I think he’s made a tremendous amount of improvement. Now regardless of how much someone knows, when you’ve never been a coordinator before, it’s a whole ‘nother ball game to be able to implement it when the (inaudible) flies. We’ll help him to do that. I also think that the other people on the staff that we have to compliment him that have been coordinators like Pete Golding can also be a real help in some areas that will help us implement when the game comes.”
On the quarterbacks, do you solicit feedback from team when considering who won the team?
“I think we assess it from…We don’t have a straw vote on the team as to who they think the quarterback ought to be. I don’t know that it would be like any election, most people don’t get elected unanimously. Therefore it would be a divisive vote that probably would not be healthy for the togetherness of the team. You know, I think these things have to be made at a little higher level based on a set of circumstances relative to consistency in performance, other players believing in, leadership, a lot of factors that come into that. As a coaching staff, not just me, we have to make a determination as to how we should play the quarterback. Now you guys are totally fixed on is somebody has to be has first team and somebody has to be second team. Tell me why. I’m asking you why. You can’t answer that. Then why. I’m asking why. Why do you think that way? If there’s people on our team that can contribute why would we not utilize their abilities to be able to contribute on our team in some form or fashion. Just like when we have a guy that’s a great (unclear) and we put him in on third down and he rushes the passer. He’s not a starter. But I guess at quarterback that just doesn’t matter in you all’s mind.”
How important is it to see how QBs respond to pressure on day to day basis?
“That’s part of the evaluation for every player at every position. I think that goes a long way to know how they’ll play and compete in the game and how they’ll respond and persevere when things don’t go well because they’ll be able to stay focused on the next thing. They won’t get affected by what happened on the last play. So I think that’s important at every position.”
Henry Ruggs caught six touchdowns last year. What are your expectations for him?
“You know, I ‘m not in the creating expectation business. That’s pretty much what people like you all do. You know make a guy a five star, he made six touchdowns so we’re going to make him be whatever this year, that’s what you do. We fight against that. We don’t want players to have expectations. We want them to have goals. And how many touchdown passes they catch is not part of the goal, it’s an outcome. My expectation for Ruggs is become a complete player at your position. Run every route, every blocking assignment, give great effort on every play, go across field and get a block that helps some other guy go 70 yards for a touchdown. We want him to be a complete player at his position. How many passes he catches and how many touchdowns he scores is going to be an outcome of that. That’s different than an expectation or a goal to me. I don’t have that expectation for you.”
How much have you looked into playing both QBs?
“We haven’t done it at all. We haven’t done it all. We’re practicing every day. We’re evaluating every day. We’re trying to get both players to play at a high level every day. I want them to be focused on what do they have to do to win? Competitors and people do not create negative contingencies. When I played, or when I team plays, I don’t run out the tunnel saying we’re going to lose today. When I played quarterback, I didn’t say I ‘m going to throw an interception. I said I ‘m going to throw a touchdown. That’s how I was thinking. I didn’t say when we called this play we were going to get sacked or it was going to be a loss. I’m thinking what do I have to do to execute on that play. We’re trying to take the same positive attitude with the quarterbacks every day. That’s what I want them to think about. I do not want them to think about negative contingencies. What if this happens? What if that happens? And you’re asking me a what-if both quarterbacks play. I don’t have an answer for that.”
Could you talk about Damien Harris’ decision to come back for his senior year and what your conversation with him was like?
“I think it was a business decision. I think that we take the information that we get from the evaluations that we get from the NFL and we say, OK, here’s your situation and here’s your circumstance. And I’m not going to tell you what that information was. But if you’re a first-round draft pick, to me it’s a no-brainer that you go out for the draft and we’ve had 29 guys go out. We’ve probably had four guys that made not so good decisions, and I don’t think any of those four guys played much longer than a year. So they should have stayed in college.
“We have a lot of history here of guys doing the right things, because if you have a first-round grade, you still might get drafted in the second round. If you have a second- or third-round grade, to me you have a tough decision to make as to whether you come back and try to move up or graduate, stay in school, and the benefits of all that. To me, every guy’s a little bit different in what their goals and aspirations are. But I think we can all agree that there’s far too many guys that are deciding to come out for the draft that it’s not a good decision, that don’t make the team. So now they’re not in college. They have no place to play. Maybe this new league that they’re talking about may offer that, but it’s kind of an all or nothing in football right now, because there isn’t a developmental league. So your security really is created by where do you enter the league. So the higher you get picked in the draft, the more guaranteed money you have, the better off your security circumstances are because you’re not going to get cut if you have a lot of guaranteed money. So now they have to develop you. But when you get drafted in the third round, you’re rolling the dice bigtime. I mean, you may end up great but you’re still going to play for a low number for three years, maybe four. And how do you make that up?
“So you come back to school and you become a first-round guy, maybe it’s worth it. But every player has to make that decision, and it’s a business decision to me. And I think Damien made a business decision relative to what he thought was best and what was in his heart in terms of what he wanted to do.
“We’re happy that he came back. I think we had some other guys this year and all you have to do is look at where they got drafted and if they had eligibility left, was that the best thing for them to do. From a business standpoint. But I always tell players, look, it doesn’t do you any good to come back if you’re not committed to coming back and you don’t want to work hard to get better, because then you don’t create any more value for yourself so you’re just wasting time. But you’re taking a big risk being a late-round draft pick going out for the draft, because your chances of making the team probably aren’t that great. Your chances of getting a second contract, based on statistical information, are not very good either.”
What kind of progress have you seen from Najee Harris?
“I think Najee, obviously at the end of the season, played very well for us and made progress last year, got more confident in what he was supposed to do, how to do it, how to run the plays, how to read the plays, understanding the pass protections better and being a more effective guy in the passing game. And I think that progress has continued over the spring. And we’ve only had one practice so far, but he hasn’t done anything to disappoint. I just think that he has more maturity, more confidence and a better understanding. And I think that should help him be more productive.”