Alabama football was without some stars on A-Day, but Nick Saban stepped in and stole the show | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

For a variety of reasons, ranging from the usual spring nicks and bruises to other possibilities that Nick Saban didn’t discuss, Alabama football was short-handed on Saturday, which, in a roundabout way, made A-Day more interesting.

There was still plenty of Bryce Young at quarterback, enough to confirm that he is the summertime leader, just as Saban has said consistently. The absence of Jalen Milroe was also a bit frustrating, if only because a few series under center might have eliminated the mystery factor surrounding the true freshman to a small degree.

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As for spending the afternoon watching proven commodities like Will Anderson, John Metchie III or Evan Neal, it was more instructive to watch Chris Braswell, Jah-Marien Latham of Pickens County (the game’s defensive MVP) and Jalen Moody (who, to be fair, isn’t exactly a fresh face) on defense; or tackle Tommy Brockermeyer, tight end Cameron Latu and especially early enrollee wide receiver Agiye Hall on offense.

Many of those will make an immediate impact in the fall. Others might now start to show up regularly until 2022. And who doesn’t enjoy watching Kool-Aid McKinstry doing anything, which meant picking off Braxton Barker on Saturday. 

Perhaps the biggest revelation of all had nothing to do with the quarterback battle or the rare off day by placekicker Will Reichard (no one is especially worried). It’s a combination of all that young talent which, with what’s shaping up to keep Alabama loaded until 2025, is something fans rarely get to see: the exuberance with which Saban approaches his job.

ESPN was given unprecedented access to Saban on the sideline (and, often, standing behind the offense on the field), and made it pay off. Saban was by turns a football wonk and a comedian, a motivator in different way for different players.

When Alabama tried a rare trick play on an end-around pass and Slade Bolden misfired on the throw to an open receiver, the 69-year old Saban responded: “Slade! I can throw it behind my back better than that.”

On another occasion Saban was shouting “Lucky Ringo!,” which is either one of Alabama’s plethora of defensive formations or his favorite cowboy star from the 1960s.

For the most part, the coach gave insights into what Alabama was trying to accomplish. Some were fairly obvious, like noting that there wouldn’t be any drastic changes in the offense under new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien. Others were downright athletic, like when he got out of  the way on an interception return. 

“The players know if they run into me it’s very similar to running into the goalpost,” Saban said. “That’s not a good choice and decision for their safety.” 

Apr 17, 2021; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA; White quarterback Bryce Young (9) evades the rush by Crimson defensive lineman Byron Young (47) in the University of Alabama A-Day Game at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby-USA TODAY Sports

After the game, Saban was asked directly about where he would be in 10 years, which would take some serious prognostication in terms of college football, the end of a decade being a distant horizon even for Saban. What’s more, an A-Day Game is so much a part of the here-and-now that it’s hard to use it as a predictive tool – although the championship celebration that followed the scrimmage placed it in more context  

So Saban handled that question, too.

"Coach Saban is here as long as Coach Saban can make a positive contribution to the team,” he said. “If I don’t think I can do that any longer, then I’ll do something else.” 

Reach Cecil Hurt at or via Twitter @cecilhurt 

Sports columnist Cecil Hurt.