Not even Nick Saban can control the weather in Tuscaloosa. Alabama’s football coach might like to have that option. But the best he can do is to adjust the temperature at the Hank Crisp Indoor Facility.
And Saban would prefer to not have to take his team inside to practice as much as he’s had to this fall camp. Two of Alabama’s five practices in the week leading up to its first scrimmage were forced indoors because of rain.
“This is probably the kind of day that you’d like to have at practice every day, so when you have a day like this, the players will be more prepared for it,” Saban said after UA’s first scrimmage at Bryant-Denny Stadium last Saturday. The high was 91 degrees that day, with the heat index in the low 100s for most of the scrimmage.
It has rained in Tuscaloosa on 10 days of the Crimson Tide’s first 13 fall practices, though the weather didn’t conflict with Alabama’s practice on all of those days.
Alabama was able to work outside on Wednesday, the 16th. The heat index hovered over 100 degrees during practice that day. After, Saban wasn’t pleased with his team’s ability to sustain its level of play.
“We’re going to play games in weather like today. I think we’ll play probably three or four. How many people were at Ole Miss last year? It was 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.”
Counting special teams plays, Alabama and Ole Miss combined for 196 plays in that game. The high in Oxford that day was 87 with humidity topping out at 94 percent. Conditions on the field, in a bowled stadium with no breeze or shade, were likely even worse than that. Saban said after the game that players and even coaches received IVs for dehydration on the sidelines.
The high in Tuscaloosa has averaged over 88 degrees since fall camp began, and the humidity has averaged about 85 percent. That takes a toll on players even without two-a-day practices.
“Sometimes, you know, when it’s hot, it’s hard,” junior receiver Calvin Ridley said. “I feel like we do our best, and he knows that, but some days it’s hot and (if) we practice at night, you might get a better practice. But everybody’s still trying, everybody’s working hard even though it’s hot.”
Conditions for Alabama’s second and final scrimmage of fall camp will likely be similar to what they were last week, with a high temperature in the low 90s. That’s probably similar to the weather UA will face in its September games. Its home opener against Fresno State is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. That’s the kind of situation Saban wants to prepare for in the scrimmage.
“I think we’ll try to make it a little more game-like,” Saban said on Wednesday. “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.”
Alabama has ways to combat the heat. There are old-school cold tubs after practice, and sometimes a mobile cryotherapy chamber. Managers drive a golf cart retrofitted with a tank of cool water and a long hose to spray players down between drills. There are tents nearby the practice field to provide shade with misters inside.
But the heat isn’t always avoidable. It’s part of what makes camp challenging, and how players prepare for the season.
“Heat like that and humidity like that, it definitely is physically a lot more on your body than compared to practicing indoors,” outside linebacker Christian Miller said. “And we’re going to play a lot — majority of our games are outside, so it will probably be really beneficial to us to practice outside. But it definitely is a little bit tougher with the heat on you, but that’s where you get mental toughness.”
With the rain finally subsiding, Alabama can find out which players can endure as camp continues. That wasn’t the case in the week leading up to its first scrimmage. Saban hopes this week’s practice precipitates some clarity on his team.
“The biggest factor is how many people can go out there and sustain in difficult circumstances and still execute and do their job,” Saban said.