“As I said after the scrimmage, the focus this week is on improvement. I think what we’re looking for is consistency in performance. Charles Barkley was here last night, speaking to the team, and he asked the question, ‘What’s the difference having success and being successful?’ You can have success on one play and one game. But if you’re successful, you have consistency in performance over a long period of time. And you develop an identity. That takes a lot of competitive character. You can’t be complacent. It’s a lot of hard work and perseverance. Can’t get affected by external circumstances. Because basically, if you can’t give effort, you can’t play with toughness, you can’t focus and be responsible to do your job, how can you ever develop and get the trust of your teammates, who know what you’re supposed to do, but are you able to go out there and do it on a consistent basis? Do they trust that you will do your part for what you need to do? So, are focus this week has been to get more people to do that. Get more people to play that way. Because ultimately, our ability to execute and the number of players we have that can execute are going to determine how successful we are. It’s also going to determine the identity of this team by what this team does, not what any other team does , not what anybody things this team is going to do, but what they actually do. I’ve complained on many occasions about people who make predictions, that there’s no basis at all for. There’s no basis at all for any predictions. I appreciate the fact that people acknowledge the team, but at the same time this team has a lot to prove. And until you do it, you basically haven’t proved much of anything.
“In this next scrimmage, I think we’ll try to make it a little more game like. Use the press box. The coaches involved in their role. Everybody making the adjustments that they have to make, whether it’s substitutions on special teams or situations in the game. Try to use the players a little more like maybe they’ll get used in the game. But we can’t get any of this done in the conditions that we have here if we don’t have mental toughness to sustain it. One of the things I’d like to say is, I’m so proud, I didn’t get to see it, all I saw was the 18th hole. But Justin Thomas, who represented this university and his self, his family. You talk about showing mental toughness and grit down the stretch to be able to perform at a high level when a high level was needed in a very difficult circumstance, he did it. The whole football program would like to congratulate him for the significant accomplishment of being a champion and winning a major tournament. We don’t really have any injuries to report that are new so there’s really nothing to talk about there.
Where are you with the pass rush and affecting the quarterback?
“It’s not where it needs to be. Guys worry too much about getting sacks and not enough about affecting the quarterback. I’ve talked about this before, but there are about eight or nine things that affect the outcome of the game. Sacks don’t really do that. It does affect drives. But it does not affect the outcome of a game. I think affecting the quarterback, pushing the pocket, not letting a guy step up in the pocket to make throws down the field is really significant to playing good pass defense and being an effective pass-rush team. If you get pushed by the quarterback, you’re playing with 10. If you don’t push the pocket in the middle the quarterback can step up and throw and see the field and do whatever he wants and attack the middle of the field. There are two things: The ability to rush, but also being a smart rusher in terms of how do we affect the quarterback which we need to improve upon.”
Because he’s local and because you had two RBs out on Saturday, could you update us on Brian Robinson?
“Brian’s done a really good job. I think being here in the spring really helped him. One of the goals we had for him over the summer was to become a better receiver. He’s definitely improved in that regard. I think he has a better understanding of the offense. He’s a big, physical guy, plays hard. Shows really good toughness, hard to tackle. We’re really pleased with his progress.”
At tight end, do you think there will be a difference there with Brian’s background and the addition of Joe Panunzio?
“We have a couple of players there that have some experience. Really three. Hale, Miller and Irv all played some last year. I think all of them have improved. I think they’ve all gotten bigger, they’ve all gotten stronger. I think they’ve all done really well. We have two young players. We need those guys to develop so that we have depth there. I think systematically, we’ll probably use the tight end a little better. Systematically. I’m not making comparisons. Good coaches coach good players to play well. We have some good players there and I think our coaches are doing a good job of helping them play well. That’s what our expectations and goals are for them are.l.”
You’ve talked a lot about establishing an identity. When does that normally take hold?
“The biggest factor is how many people can go out there and sustain in difficult circumstances and still execute and do their job. Because how much are you giving the other team by making mental errors and not being able to focus on the technique that you’re supposed to play, not being able to do what you’re supposed to do. Most of you all, including Miss Terry, my mom , (I believe he says “Aunt Fran” here), they want to call the plays and think whoever’s calling the plays is the one messing it up. But basically, when the play gets messed up, it’s because somebody didn’t execute it right. So we didn’t block it right. We didn’t run the right routes. We didn’t have good protection. We don’t really have ‘Who called that defense?’ We don’t have any defense where we don’t cover all the guys. Whether we get them covered or not, now that’s another story. It all comes down to execution, people playing together, everybody being able to do their job. When I see the effort, which I haven’t seen on a consistent basis. The toughness, mentally and physical toughness, which I see in spots but not all the time, and the ability for people to focus and do their job regardless of the circumstance. We’re going to play games in weather like today. I think we’ll play three or four. How many people were at Ole Miss last year? 100 degrees and we played 100 plays. Well, you better be a full-grown man if you’re going to do that. Right here in your head, to be able to sustain and play and finish. Are we there yet? Probably not. Are we making progress? I think so. But we have to continue to work.”
What have you seen from Matt Womack?
“He has improved, he’s doing a nice job. I think there’s some competition at the tackle positions and he’s certainly involved in it. A couple of young players are making progress at that position, but Matt has done really well. He has good knowledge of what to do. He’s playing a little more physical, which is one of the goals we had for him. He’s gotten to be a little better pass protector. I think he fits well with the other players in the group, but there is competition at the tackle position.”
What have you seen from Devonta Smith? He’s had some nice catches in videos you put out.
(Media kerfuffle to explain videos to Saban)
“Well, for what we do in the individual period, I’d say he looks really good. [laughter] That’s on air, right? Some really good catches on routes on air. That’s all you’re supposed to see, so that’s all I can comment on.”
“Devonta’s doing really, really well. But, I would also say that several of the other freshmen receivers are doing well too, and I think they’re going to make a contribution and I think they’re creating a lot of competition at those positions.”
What kind of leadership has Ronnie Harrison shown?
“Ronnie’s done a really good job. Ronnie’s played a lot of good football for us. He’s had a really good camp, worked really hard but giving a lot of consistent effort, by setting a great example for the other players. I’m very pleased with his knowledge and experience, his leadership in the secondary. He’s done a really, really good job. Hopefully he’ll continue to be able work and be an outstanding player for us in the back end.”
How does moving Minkah around allow you to create blitz looks?
“I don’t know. I can’t answer that. Minkah does have a lot of versatility because of the experience. He’s played every position in the secondary for us. I think his diversity allows us a lot of different things that we can do. But to me, it’s getting the best combination of people around him that’s going to make us the most effective group in the secondary. I think there’s competition at several positions. I’m not sure exactly how we’ll use all the players yet at this point in time. Minkah does it as well as anybody I’ve ever coached, in terms of how he works every day, how he finishes plays, his conditioning level, just phenomenal. Pays attention to detail. It’s important to him. Makes sure he knows what to do. A lot of players that are good players I’ve heard them say ‘I’m saving it for the game.’ Every one of those players, and all those teams that I’ve been on that the players say that, none of them are worth a [expletive]. He doesn’t do that. He works every day to get better. I hope we have more and more players who work like him, because when you have players that do that, you usually have a pretty good team. He sets a great example and we’re excited to be able to utilize him in a lot of different ways.”
What have you seen from Christian Miller this camp?
“I don’t really know. You guys make all these predictions about everything, about guys who are going to be great players who have been here for two years, who’s going to win all the games. I don’t even know why we play. Why do we even play? Why do we even have practice? Why do we compete. Why do we coach guys? Why do we even need to improve? You guys have all the answers to how guys are going to be, what they’re going to do. Sometimes I wonder why do we play? Why do we even have practice? Because you guys already have all these conclusions already drawn about who’s what, how good they are, what they can do, so why would you ask me? I read stuff all the time like ‘Whoa, that’s nice to know.’ Where’d that come from? And then you ask me?
“But Christian Miller has done a nice job. He’s doing a good job and had a lot of production points in the scrimmage. So we’re really happy with his progress. And, you know, thanks for asking.”