During his tenure at Alabama, Nick Saban has routinely used his time at Media Days to air his opinion on various topics affecting college football, motivate players, and generally show his disdain for the media. This year was no different when Saban spoke to a crowded room at the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, and as has typically been the case at his time at UA you walk away with some interesting insights moving forward.
First and foremost, as expected, the A.J. McCarron v. Phillip Sims line of questioning came up almost immediately. Showing that aforementioned media disdain, when asked where the quarterback race stands, Saban deadpanned:
It doesn't stand anywhere.
Indeed, coach, I suppose it does not stand anywhere, true enough. Later on though, upon further questioning, he doled out a more meaningful answer on the looming QB battle:
"We continue to do what we've been doing," Saban said. "The fact that we have two guys that are talented guys that have both shown promise at the position, but both sort of have the same question mark in terms of experience and how much they play the game. We're gonna continue to bring both guys along the best we can, and I think it's only fair both guys would have an opportunity to play in a game before any decision is made about who is the best player. And maybe there's not even a best player there's just two really good players."
The emphasis is mine, but the statement clearly speaks for itself. The belief by many for some time, myself included, has been that Saban and company would prolong the quarterback battle throughout fall camp, not announce a starter, and then play both quarterbacks in the early stages of the season. Doing so probably eliminates the possibility of a transfer and would give the staff the greatest amount of time in order to ensure that ultimately the correct decision is made.
At this point the question is quarterback has less to do with how it will play out but instead when it will play out. At some point a definite decision will be made -- Saban made no reference whatsoever to the possibility of a long-term two quarterback system -- and we now know the basic procedure upon which a decision will be made, but when will it come down? Obviously both will see some playing time early, but is a decision made before 'Bama makes the road trip to Happy Valley, or will UA face Penn State with a two-QB system? Surely a decision will come down before Arkansas comes to Tuscaloosa to open SEC play, but any specific time frame before that is largely a guess at this point.
And speaking of issues on the offensive side of the ball, the question of Barrett Jones' position came up, and Saban somewhat left the door open on that one:
"We'll work him at both positions until we can determine who the best fit player is for the offensive line," Saban said.
Anything can change moving forward, but considering that he looked good at left tackle in spring practice and the fact that the guy appears on the 2011 Media Guide lined up at left tackle, you have to figure that left tackle is likely the ultimate destination here. I imagine the smart money is on Barrett Jones being the left tackle in 2011 unless either (1) Cyrus Kouandjio blows the coaching staff away in fall camp, or (2) right guard turns out to be as big of a train wreck in the absence of Jones as it was a year ago. Either of those things could result in Jones being moved back to right guard, but I wouldn't expect either of them as of right now.
On the downside, though, Saban didn't mince words when addressing the defensive line. As we've written extensively here at RBR, the defensive line looks to be the biggest concern on the entire team, and Saban was particularly blunt in his assessment of the bleak outlook of that group:
Well, I think that we have a little different type team this year defensively. I think in the last few years we have had, always had, dominant down guys that had pass-rush ability. Marcell Dareus being the most recent. You know, several other guys in the past that are playing in the NFL now, as well. I'm not sure we have those kind of dominating down guys right now. We're trying to develop some of those guys as younger players.
Several other quotes throughout his address were to the same effect, and while I'll avoid bogging this piece down with repetitive quotes, he gave very little reason for optimism. Certainly to an extent he is most likely trying to motivate some players before fall camp begins, but even so the situation looks relatively dire. The fact of the matter is that injuries, off-field issues, and recruiting busts have taken a major toll the past couple of years. The one true star we had left early for the NFL Draft, Damion Square looked like a shell of himself after his knee injury, Kerry Murphy will be placed on medical scholarship, Chris Bonds looks like a complete bust, Jesse Williams didn't have the impact this spring that we all hoped, Darrington Sentimore and Brandon Moore were suspended, etc., etc.
You can go on all day about how all of those things have negatively impacted the overall play of the unit, but either way at the end of the day we're left looking at a line with no real star power and very little proven quality depth, and considering that the game is still played from the inside out and that to a large degree games are still won in the trenches, one would be justified in having a sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach about how this unit will perform this season. Hopefully things can get rectified on short notice, but truthfully unless several guys really break through this fall, we're going to be playing patchwork with the defensive line and just hoping that the strength of the back seven can overcome the weaknesses on the line. Unfortunately for right now this looks to be the weakest line we've fielded on either side of the ball since 2007, and Saban really said nothing today to make a rational observer feel any more comfortable with that fact.
Finally, to close, a bit of a random aside here that I nevertheless find interesting, do you ever wonder why Saban implements the 3-4 defense at Alabama instead of the more traditional 4-3? He was asked about that earlier today and gave a quite detailed answer:
I think the greatest advantage philosophically of playing a 3-4 is it gives you the best opportunity to play a seven-man front and play split-safety coverages rather than having to be in an eight-man front to stop the run. You have to have the right kind of players to do it. But philosophically I think that's why you see more and more of that defense.
That may not make sense to a lot of you out there, but from a technical standpoint, that's the reason we like it. And because you have both backers at the end of the line, your adjustments to formations are a little easier. And the trend on offense now is to have a tremendous number of multiples in personnel groups and formations, so adjustments are a little easier.
And, no, football season can't get here fast enough.