FAYETTEVILLE - SEPTEMBER 25: Robert Lester #37 of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates with teammates after his interception which set up the game winning score against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium on September 25 2010 in Fayetteville Arkansas. Alabama won 24-20. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
The Crimson Tide’s fifth-year senior safety gives a "Wouldn’t you?" response to the question. "You lose three guys to the NFL and you look at the defense and the secondary is not that strong – two returning starters," Lester said with a sly smile. "Of course, you try to exploit any week spot you can find." He welcomes the test. "There’s more opportunities for me to make plays," he said. He’s made his share as a starter for the past two years. Lester intercepted eight passes as a sophomore and picked off two more last year. Alabama coach Nick Saban and defensive teammates said Lester runs the secondary. Saban said Monday that Lester makes the checks and communicates everything to the secondary. "I can’t say enough about how this is an example of a guy who has worked hard and had all the right stuff in terms of perseverance, resiliency, overcoming adversity as a player, and has continued to improve, not get frustrated," Saban said. "He has become a very, very effective player for us. … Robert has turned out to be a really, really good leader in the secondary."
"I guess everybody gets really excited when it's game week," said Alabama head coach Nick Saban. "Obviously, the most important game in preparing yourself for the season is the opening game. Our team has a done a really good job, and had a good attitude about all the things we've asked them to do in terms of the work ethic. They've had a good attitude of coming back."
Crimson Tide center Barrett Jones, tackle D.J. Fluker and guards Anthony Steen and Chance Warmack are returning starters and have combined to start 95 career games. Sophomore Cyrus Kouandjio moves into the left tackle spot after coming to Alabama as one of the nation's top line recruits. Blocking tight end Michael Williams is back, too, with 27 career starts. Meanwhile, Michigan is struggling up front, losing three of four first-team players who combined for 87 career starts. Defensive end Craig Roh is back with 38 starts, but at tackle will be junior Quinton Washington (three career collegiate tackles) and senior Will Campbell (an offensive lineman until last year). At the other end will be junior Jibreel Black, a top reserve a year ago with 18 tackles. This edge hasn't gone unnoticed by Alabama, which is looking to establish its strength up front, just as it has tried to do for all of Nick Saban's previous five years as the Tide's coach. "A game always starts in the trenches and how physical up front you are," Warmack said.
"Two things when you play against an offense like this, most people think about the secondary and think about the pass defense but really run support issues, how you keep contain, how you have the cut back guy, how you have the alley guy, how you have a second contain guy. The decisions that those guys make on leveraging a blocker and the ball, those things all can lead to big plays as well. Dee has done really well. Deion has done a very good job for us. I think that the issue there is creating the depth that we need past that. John Fulton has had a pretty good camp. It's the entire secondary as a whole that we are going to be playing. A couple or three guys in most situations in this game because there is going to be a good bit of nickel that have not played, and I think that they will be very good players. I also think that their experience or lack of, the impact that that has on their ability to play will certainly determine how well they play."
Alabama coach Nick Saban said opening with these types of games provide a boost in offseason work. "It really gives the players something to look forward to in the first game and it gives the fans a lot to look forward to in the first game," said Saban, who coached Michigan rival Michigan State from 1995-99. "I think it's good for college football when we have these kinds of games. We enjoy playing in them. It's going to be very challenging for us and we'll certainly see where we are as a team." Alabama linebacker Nico Johnson likes it this way. "You kind of learn a lot playing against a team like this, a good team early," Johnson said. "You learn a lot, instead of waiting on down the line to learn those lessons you need to learn. By playing Michigan, we're going to learn a lot. Who knows what it's going to be, but I know we're going to learn something."
"Summer, I broke everybody down. I kind of work with one of our GAs, Jeff Norrid. He helps me a bunch. He knows everything there is about defense," McCarron said. "Through the summer, we broke each opponent down week by week but probably in the past two, two-and-a-half weeks, we've watched ton of film on (Michigan). Me and him are up here at least 3 1/2, four hours a day. We'll come an hour or so before practice and then the rest after. So we've done a tremendous amount of breaking them down."
Alabama had four safeties on the field during a dime defense drill. Veteran Robert Lester and sophomore HaHa Clinton-Dix played deep. Sophomore Vinnie Sunseri played the "Star" position. Junior Nick Perry played the "Money" position. The cornerbacks were Dee Milliner and Deion Belue.
"We have guys that have ability in pass rushing," the Crimson Tide's head coach said Monday before naming an outside linebacker in particular. "Adrian Hubbard is a guy that is very difficult to block and can be a really good pass rusher. … "I'm pleased with the pass rush. I'm pleased with the guys that we have. I think we can generate a lot of pass rush, but I think experience, knowledge, being smart about how you rush a guy like this, is really, really important. And a lot of it comes down to decision-making."
Sophomore defensive end Frank Clark, who was suspended after an offseason arrest for second-degree home invasion, also is listed on the depth chart. He is the No. 2 weak-side defensive end, although his playing status, like Toussaint's, remains undetermined. Hoke said he's still evaluating their cases, but "I probably have an idea" what he'll do. "Whenever you’re in this position, you’ve got to make decisions that are best for the program," he said at a roundtable with reporters at the Junge Family Center, which sits adjacent to Michigan Stadium. "That doesn’t mean for one specific team, it means for the program, for the identity and character of the program that you represent. Are they easy decisions? No. Are they decisions that you want to make because you love the kids? No."
Michigan senior receiver Roy Roundtree had left knee surgery just 17 days ago, but says he already is 100-percent healthy with a full week of practices left before the season opener. The Wolverines' active leader in career receptions had arthroscopic surgery Aug. 10, but began running routes late last week and returned to full practice Sunday. He knew when he took his first hit, and didn't feel a thing in the knee, that he would be good to go. "I'm 100 percent guys," he said Monday. "I'll be back."
Stopping mobile quarterbacks wasn’t an issue for Alabama last season, as it allowed just one, LSU’s Jordan Jefferson, to rush for more than 40 yards. Robinson, though, presents a unique challenge when he’s outside the pocket and still behind the line of scrimmage. "Guys like to jump and bat balls down," Saban said. "Well, this guy will ball fake you like Michael Jordan and take off running and you’ll say, ‘Well, how did that happen?’" With scout team quarterback Blake Sims trying to do his best impression of Robinson, that kind of discipline has been a point of emphasis at Alabama’s practices since it dived fully into its Michigan preparations Friday. Its goal: Stay as far away as possible from the wrong side of a "Top 10" play. "Some guys, you can rush the passer relentlessly, and some guys you can’t because they will create problems with the rush lanes and things like that," Square said. "You have to stay content with the rush, you have to have communication up front, understanding what the guys are doing on the other side to keep the pocket contained.
"He doesn’t get credit for how good he is," Alabama senior linebacker Nico Johnson said. "He’s really a good athlete. Really, he’s a better passer than what people think he is. We’re just going to take advantage of every opportunity we get and try to contain him. "He’s so good and we’re going to have to be clicking on all cylinders."
The University of Alabama football team opens the 2012 season on Saturday, September 1, when it takes on the Michigan Wolverines at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The season-opening matchup will mark the fourth time the teams have met on the gridiron, with Michigan leading the all-time series, 2-1. The September meeting will, however, be the first time the two teams have met in the regular season, with all three previous matchups coming in postseason bowl games. The game will be televised nationally on ABC with kickoff set for 7 p.m. CT. Brent Musburger will serve as the play-by-play announcer, with Kirk Herbstreit at his side as the color analyst. The two will be joined by sideline reporter Heather Cox. Eli Gold and Phil Savage will handle the radio call on the Crimson Tide Sports Network, with Chris Stewart serving as sideline reporter.
A number of Alabama players have families who live in the path of tropical storm Isaac, which could be categorized as a hurricane by Tuesday. Among those is Kevin Norwood, of D'Iberville, Miss., which is a short drive north of Biloxi, Miss., on the state's southern coast. "I've been worried about that. It's coming August 29, the same day Katrina hit," Norwood said. "It's kind of scary for me because my family's down there. The devastation that Katrina left behind is real scary stuff. I'm going to watch for that." The UA roster includes six players from Louisiana, including Bradley Sylve, whose town of Port Sulphur in the Plaquemines Parish was destroyed by Katrina.
So how is The Injury? "Nagging injury, but nothing serious at all," Lacy said Monday before practice. He was asked if something is bothering him more than anything else. "Nah, I wouldn’t say that," he said. How is the toe? "The toe is good, actually," Lacy said. "Very good." He was asked if he is 100 percent healthy. "I never put a percent on it, but I rehab and progress every day," Lacy said.
During official reviews, stadium video boards will be permitted to show replays from the television network broadcasting the game. Video feed from the network can be shown only between the referee's announcement to stop play for the review and his communication of the review's outcome. "The change in policy will allow our fans to see more of the action, including great plays and close calls," SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said in a statement. "Fans in the stadium now can see many of the same views of a play seen by fans watching on television. This should add to the overall game experience for fans inside our stadiums."
"I served on the Board of Regents at A&M. I don't now. Texas A&M played Arkansas in the new stadium (Cowboys Stadium). I just can't tell you how much a ticket cost. This is college football. We're talking about $200, $275 dollars for a ticket. The old average fan can't do that. It bothers me a little bit. I would like for it to be somewhere where just a guy who's been supporting Alabama for years and years and years can still go to a game."