After the Crimson Tide's first official practice of the fall, Lester wasn't the only Alabama player raving about the team's productive time between the end of spring football and Friday. Saban was, too, as he praised the players for some of the best results, "in terms of quality performance," he's ever seen during his six years at Alabama. It was yet another moment of encouragement for Saban, whose offseason message has centered on the dangerous reality of how the kind of success Alabama saw in 2011 can lead to various sorts of complacency. Exhibit A: The 2010 Crimson Tide. "That doesn't necessarily mean you're a better football player," Saban said. "It just means the players invested a lot in the conditioning work that they have, and that's going to give them a better opportunity to sustain some practices and some things that they need to do to try to improve."
Quarterback AJ McCarron insists Alabama turned its focus to the 2012 season long before opening preseason camp on Friday. Apparently, coach Nick Saban gives the Crimson Tide a little bonus time to his normal 24-hour limit for celebrations when the victory comes in the national championship game. Just a little. "I think we had maybe 72 hours and then we were back to, ‘This team hasn’t done anything,’" McCarron said. "Not a whole lot of celebration around here. It doesn’t matter how many you win. Like coach says, ‘It’s not about what you did in the past, it’s what you’re doing right now.’ That’s all anybody cares about."
UA coach Nick Saban said the Crimson Tide performed better as a team in summer conditioning tests than his UA teams of the past, a strong indication that players did not rest in the off-season in the afterglow of a 2011 BCS National Championship. "(I've) really been pleased with the team chemistry and the attitude with this group of players that we have. We had very good summer of offseason work," Saban said. "This is probably the best test results that we've ever gotten from our performance in terms of quality performance on the test." Fifth-year senior Robert Lester said he has been impressed with the Crimson Tide's work ethic throughout the off-season. "It's great to have these guys contribute the way they have in the summer," Lester said. "Jesse Williams benched 600 pounds. That says a lot about how hard this team's working."
"When you have a young team, I think you're going to basically do how well your team learns to execute on a consistent basis," he continued. "I think that's probably one of the biggest goals that we have in this fall camp. We're going to have a lot of young players, a lot of opportunity for a lot of young players to play and have a role on the team."
UA quarterback AJ McCarron said he noticed no issues with Lacy during the morning workout. "He looks good. Fast first step. (On) Outside zones, he got to running pretty well, pretty fast, and definitely pushed me to a good limit to get the ball outside to him," McCarron said. "He looked light on his feet. I think he's ready to go." Lacy is by far Alabama's most experienced returner at the position. His 151 career carries is more than double that of backup Jalston Fowler (70), while reserve running back Dee Hart redshirted last year and has yet to see game action. "He hasn't done a lot of cutting. That will be sort of the next test, (but) he took every rep that he was supposed to take in practice today and didn't seem to have an issue," Saban added.
He's optimistic that there's at least one player who can perform as well as he did when presented with a golden opportunity like this. "Anybody can," Lester said. "If you pay attention to details, like Coach (Nick) Saban says, and execute the game plan. Just do what’s expected of you. Go out and work hard and finish the play, anything’s possible. These guys are very capable of making those type of plays, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they do go out and make it this year."
Four inside linebackers, four outside linebackers and seven defensive linemen worked in the morning. The inside backers included Nico Johnson, C.J. Mosley, Trey DePriest and Josh Dickerson. Adrian Hubbard, Xzavier Dickson, Jonathan Atchison and Tana Patrick were the outside linebackers. Quinton Dial,Damion Square, Ed Stinson, Jesse Williams, Brandon Ivory, William Ming and Jeoffrey Pagan were on the defensive line.
"It was good in the old days when you could practice with the freshmen for a few practices so that you could sort of teach them and sort of eliminate some of their anxieties about going out to practice the first time," Saban said after the morning practice. "Being around those older guys they didn’t know very well ... they ended up in the back of the lines. They didn’t maybe get as many turns because they’re in the back of the lines. This way ... the focus of our attention will be on those young players."
McCarron said he tried good-naturedly to see if he could get under Jones’ skin recently. It didn’t really work, but McCarron seemed to have fun telling the story anyway. "Everything he said, I disagreed with, even if he was 100 percent correct," McCarron said. "Finally, he looks at me, rolls his eyes and says, ‘I’m going to bed.’ "
"He will get turns at quarterback to see how our quarterbacks develop, and he may give us a different option at that position," Saban said. "He has repped there significantly in the past, so he'll probably split time between a running back and a quarterback. We'll certainly make sure that we look at the option of allowing him to develop what he can do at quarterback."
Arie Kouandjio's first college football season was cut short by knee injuries. Yes, that's plural. So how is the Alabama offensive lineman doing now? "He actually did a lot better in the summer than we anticipated that he might, relative to his injuries and the downtime that he had to have in rehab because of the type of injuries that he had and the multiple injuries that he had," Alabama coach Nick Saban said Friday after the Crimson Tide's first practice of the preseason.
Is Alabama coach Nick Saban planning any position experiments during the preseason? "Not really, at this point," he said Friday after the Crimson Tide's first practice. "Where we ended up in the spring, we think once we sort of get a little better picture of some of the young players, especially the new freshmen, the 17 or 18 guys that are here for the first time that weren't here in the spring. ... I think maybe trying to figure out if they're capable of having a role on this team, what is that role?"
Nebraska's secondary knows it was vulnerable downfield too often last year, so it's trying new methods to become a better coverage unit. Mimicking Alabama, for starters. Advertisement The Husker defensive backs have studied practice film and game tape of the national champion Crimson Tide, which annually boasts one of the nation's top pass defenses. No team gave up fewer passing yards than 'Bama last year (111.5 per game). During the past few months, NU's players would cue up a practice clip of an Alabama safety or cornerback maneuvering through a particular drill. Then see how the seemingly minor technique was applied in games. Some of those same drills have showed up during Nebraska's summer conditioning. Exercises focused on pinning a receiver to the sideline. Jump-ball scenarios. Simply reading the football in the air.
So in the end, a negotiation did occur. It just didn't much involve the university's stewards, the board of trustees. In the aftermath of the Freeh report, Peetz, vice chairman of The Bank of New York Mellon, says the board is committed to changing its makeup and getting off the sidelines. Erickson will retire inside a year. Public funding for universities is declining. The NCAA has put Penn State's athletic program, including football, under the watch of an athletics integrity monitor, former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell. It's hard to argue a more effective board that's ready to move on wouldn't benefit everyone. Yet some trustees see little positive in moving forward with Penn State football so changed. Some trustees argue that the package of sanctions was worse than the death penalty. Some remain furious at Erickson. The Freeh group had criticized the board for knowing little about the Sandusky matter and doing even less. And now, when it came to one of the biggest financial decisions in Penn State's history, a majority of the trustees had no idea that Erickson and lawyers were hammering out the agreement. At a three-hour discussion on July 25, trustees demanded answers for the lack of communication, and Erickson and Marsh explained the NCAA demands. Marsh repeated his analogy that it was like "a cram-down," which some trustees later said made sense to them. Afterward, the board released a statement standing by Erickson and saying that if the penalties had not been accepted, the outcome would have been far more Draconian.