Nick Saban was spending an April Thursday morning as the only person in the Mal M. Moore Athletic Facility. Under normal circumstances, the building would be buzzing with his entire University of Alabama football coaching staff and the entire roster, all of them preparing for another spring practice.
Instead, days after telling Tidesports.com how UA was improvising in its football activities around the COVID-19 pandemic, Saban gave a few more details to the daily operations in a teleconference.
“I think the best thing we can do is adapt and adjust to it the best that we can,” Saban said. “Basically, there’s two areas, really three areas, that we’re trying to focus on. Every morning, I have a Zoom staff meeting at 7:30 just like we always do. It’s done on Zoom so there’s no personal contact with anybody, and we discuss basically what we’re going to do with our team and our players that particular day. We usually use the morning to sort of work on next year’s opponents, which is not what we would typically be doing at this time of year when spring practice is going on.
“In the afternoon, we try to do as much as we can to stay in contact with recruits. On Monday, Tuesday and Thursday right now we’re doing segments with our players. I do video conferences and phone calls with recruits then in the afternoon. That’s pretty much what a day is like and we’re doing the best we can.”
In doing the best they can, it means position coaches running spring meetings quite differently than they usually would. Saban made a case that, in some instances, it makes for better meetings this way.
“We’re not in any real hurry with whatever installations we’re doing with the players,” he said. “For example, if we’re on offense and we’re teaching inside zone, we can take 30 minutes on teaching the techniques, the aiming points, the footwork, and then actually show the players video of doing it correctly or actually let them evaluate if the guy we’re looking at is doing it correctly or incorrectly.
“I think conceptually there’s a lot of benefit to it because we don’t have to hurry through it because we’re going through this install and then we’re gonna go practice in a half-hour, so we got 30 minutes to meet. Then we gotta go on the field and then we gotta be able to go do this today. I think it gives the opportunity for the players to be engaged, No. 1, but No. 2, I do think it’s a slow process of learning that can be beneficial to them having a better understanding of concepts.”
With that benefit considered, Saban still longs for the benefit of on-field instruction in the spring. He would prefer a 14-day instruction period before teams begin preseason practice, whenever that may be, even if that instruction period is just in helmets and shorts. The way he sees it, the contact of spring practice does not help prepare players for that season — that’s what preseason practice is for — but the instruction time therein is valuable.
Of course, there are other obstacles. The new heads of UA’s strength and conditioning program, David Ballou and Dr. Matt Rhea, have set up workout programs for players and collecting data from their smart watches and apps on their phones, but some players don’t have access to weight rooms as high schools are shutting down. Those players have to settle for workouts with resistance bands.
The smart watches were provided to players who didn’t already have them before players left campus, with the goal of players being able to monitor their own heart rate during workouts.
“The SEC is aware that Alabama provided Apple Watches to some of our student-athletes,” Senior Associate Athletic Director for compliance Matt Self said in a statement to TideSports.com. “We are in constant communication with the SEC discussing the appropriate manner in which to utilize these and any other resources to provide for the health and well-being of our student-athletes in this crisis.”
The hurdles to clear in an attempt to run a college football operation as normal can look to be too much to conquer on the surface. It helps that Saban diverts efforts elsewhere, such as filming public service announcements and donating to food banks through the state.
“This is a very uncertain time for a lot of people, creates a lot of anxiety,” Saban said. “But, what we’ve tried to emphasis to people is not to worry, but to try to make good choices and decisions about what you do so you can try to stay safe. Just hope and pray that we can move out the other end of this sometime in the very near future.”
Saban also said linebacker Markail Benton has been suspended from the team, “and that hasn’t really changed.” Benton carved out a role for himself in Dime packages last season, ultimately recording 19 tackles, one for a loss, and a pass breakup. If he is able to return to the team for the 2020 season, he will be a redshirt junior.