"As a coach, my vision, my belief in this program and our players and the direction we're headed in no way shape or form has wavered," Grant said, his voice echoing through the empty arena. "I think if you look at the results we got, we didn't get the final results, but I can tell you this about every game in my memory, we were right there. We're not far, even though the results, the final win and loss numbers don't say it, I think we are close.
"As a program, we're not where we want to be ... yet."
That's a nice, optimistic note. Hopefully, the fanbase can buy into the optimism, or at least avoid falling prey to a poisonous amount of negativity.
What's harder than holding on to the football while plowing through a wall of tacklers who want nothing more than to rip it from your hands?
The answer's simple. Try doing it with a ball tucked under both arms.
Alabama H-back Jalston Fowler explains Tide's ball security drills - March 31, 2014 Alabama H-back Jalston Fowler talks with reporters after practice Monday, March 31, 2014. Alabama put the ball on the ground 14 times in 2013 and lost possession on all but four. The Crimson Tide's running backs were responsible for all but three of the team's lost fumbles, as T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake accounted for four and three, respectively.
This is an interesting strategy to me, even if it seems a bit counter-intuitive. Ingram and Richardson were both all-time greats with regards to ball security. I don't think it's a coincidence that they both also did a great job of tucking the ball in tight and wrapping it with both arms in traffic. I understand the idea that these players should protect the ball better when only using one hand, but I felt like our running backs were not wrapping the ball up in traffic enough, and I'm not sure that this type of strategy might not inadvertently reinforce relying on one arm. What do you guys think?
Fowler said he didn't know if Kiffin's offense would provide him with as many opportunities near the goal line, but there's clearly been an emphasis on catching passes out of the H-back position.
"My role will change a lot because I have to learn what the receivers are doing, the H receivers," Fowler said. "It helps everybody out, when you have to learn what everyone else has to do on offense. It’s pretty diverse, but if you learn it you’ll be better prepared to play in our offense."
During viewing sessions of practice last year, Fowler was the only player to bounce between running back and tight end/H-back drills. This spring, he's been joined by walk-ons Corey McCarron and Michael Nysewander.
Not super encouraging to hear that the depth behind Fowler consists solely of walk-ons. We are going to have a few guys this year whose health will be crucial, and Fowler may just be one of them.
Obviously there will be 11 players on the field to start Saturday's closed scrimmage, but Saban continues to stress the experimentation and competition of spring. The Tide practices twice more before that first scrimmage in an empty Bryant-Denny Stadium.
"Depth chart means nothing right now," last year's starting right tackle Austin Shepherd said. The depth chart won't mean anything until we play West Virginia. You have nine-10 days here and then all of fall camp to prove things. So the depth chart means nothing."
The good news for Alabama is that this isn’t the first time coach Nick Saban and his staff have been through this. Just last season offensive line coach Mario Cristobal had the unenviable job of replacing three All-SEC caliber linemen: Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker. And do you remember what happened? The 2013 line actually one-upped the previous season's line in some respects. The line allowed six fewer sacks and also saw its rushes for zero or negative yards -- a good indicator of the push a line generates -- fall from 91 to 79, vaulting the Tide to fourth nationally in that category.
But, of course, there’s room to improve. Just ask Kelly.
“Communication is the most important thing,” he explained. “All 11 guys have to be on the same page. ... It starts with the offensive line. One of the things we’re trying to emphasize is get up to the ball, get down, get set. Last year, look at it, we were running the clock down to five, four seconds every time. The faster that we can get to the line, get set, let the quarterback look at what he’s got to look at, the more time we can have and we’re not rushing to make calls last-minute.”
Well, that's an interesting statistic. I don't know about you all, but I definitely felt like our running backs were getting hit in the backfield more often this year, so when I saw that the team supposedly excelled in this area, I perked up. After double checking, it seems that this "improvement" is actually a shell game, and the anecdotal evidence provided by our memory actually wins out. First off, the 2012 team played an extra game, so that's more attempts. Secondly, the 2012 team was extremely unbalanced towards rushing with regards to run/pass play call distribution, while the 2013 team's distribution was much more balanced.
How big of a difference exists? Well, in 2012, the team had 570 rush attempts. In 2013, the team only had 461. When we take the number of times that the team rushed zero or negative yards as a ratio of total rush attempts, we get what I will call a "fail rate". The math shakes out as such:
2013 "fail rate": 17.137%
2012 "fail rate": 15.965%
This is your daily reminder that raw stats are often misleading, and have to be contextualized to provide any meaningful information.
Here's some extra footage from Monday's practice: