Though no earth-shattering news emerged from Nick Saban’s presser on Thursday afternoon, there are a few tidbits of note that may be of interest. And at least one of them should result in a huge exhale of relief heard across the state of Alabama.
ODL (Our Dark Lord) started off by providing an overall assessment of camp, and managed to stick in a few quotes clearly directed at players who may be feeling the burn of the rigorous practice demands. Saban said he was pleased with camp thus far, and that many players were doing well under the current circumstances. He indicated that some of the younger players are beginning to wilt a little and must develop the "mental toughness" required to improve with each practice. Saban made an interesting point about the nature of practice in general: in practice, you either get better or worse…no one stays the same.
To paraphrase ODL (if I dare), those who endure don’t improve, but those who "push through" do get better. He said in this camp, it has been clear the more seasoned players are better at "pushing through," but the younger players are still struggling with that aspect of preparation. He added, however, that today’s practice was "fantastic," which is high praise from a man who sometimes appears loathe to offer too much public positivity concerning effort.
Saban said that the team continues to deal with several injuries, though none appear to be crippling to this year’s incarnation of the Tide. Defensive line newcomer O.J. Smith had an injury to his shoulder when he arrived on campus, and ODL announced that the decision was made to proceed with a surgery to remedy the problem. Said surgery will knock Smith out for the season.
Saban mentioned that offensive lineman Leon Brown is making good progress in regard to his foot injury. According to Saban, Brown is running straight line sprints at practice, though the coaches are limiting his practice activity. Saban indicated Brown could be ready to resume his normal practice routine in about a week.
…And the news we’ve all been anxiously awaiting turned out to be rather positive, to say the least. A’Shawn Robinson’s phantom knee injury sent a shockwave through the Bama legions, as he is expected to be the stalwart of the Bama defensive line this season. Rumors had trickled out about a knee damaged several days ago in practice, but it appears the damage is minor and the coaching staff is simply keeping him sidelined out of an abundance of caution.
While Robinson suffered a sprain, Saban characterized the injury as "non-surgical," and said the team was currently taking a cautious approach to prevent further injury. Saban said later that Robinson would likely not participate in Saturday’s scrimmage, and that it could be as long as a week before the coaching staff feels comfortable putting him back on the field. So breathe a sigh of relief, everyone, as this is the most deadly bullet dodged yet this pre-season. I won’t taunt fate by splaying out the gory details of what the DL without A’Shawn would look like, so let’s just celebrate this small victory.
Thursday’s practice saw the return of a pair of players suspended for off-season transgressions, as Jarran Reed (DUI) and Brandon Ivory (violation of team rules) both made their first appearance at camp. Saban had indicated the players needed only to complete the appointed remediation to be welcomed back into the fold, and fortunately, the young men apparently complied. Saban said later that both players will have to undergo the typical five-day acclimation period, but both are on their way back to good graces.
The same cannot be said about hybrid defensive end Tim Williams. No word from Saban on when Williams will return to the team, but for the time being, it appears he remains in the doghouse.
The H back pecking order appears set, as Jalston Fowler continues to work in the lead role. Fowler flourished in that position last year, and there’s no reason to expect any different this year. Note: It appears Fowler has added some weight and looks much closer to the 270 range and the not the 245 he's listed at.Corey McCarron and Michael Nysewander continue to spell Fowler at H back.
The running back hierarchy has also stayed much the same with T.J. Yeldon continuing to run as the lead horse, followed by Derrick Henry, Kenyan Drake, Tyren Jones and Altee Tenpenny. Regarding Kenyan Drake, Saban offered a glimpse of the way new OC Lane Kiffin may use the speedy RB’s skill set in his press conference. Saban mentioned the fact that guys like O.J. Howard and Drake create "great mismatches in the passing game." He said, along with the stable of wide receivers, Howard and Drake give the coaches "different kinds of weapons" that can be used to exploit mismatches. Can anyone say "bubble-screen?" (And I don’t mean that in a bad way. The Bama screen/ inside passing game was lacking last year, and it has been tremendously effective in the past when these types of mismatches can be created. This would be a welcomed change IMO.)
It appears the first OL grouping may be set, at least until Brown returns, as the rotation is beginning to become more consistent as camp wears on. Thursday’s first group included Cam Robinson, Arie Kouandjio, Ryan Kelly, Alphonse Taylor and Austin Shepherd, and I’d be willing to bet that this is the group that sticks. We may see Brown slide back into that right guard role in place of Taylor, but other than that, the other four positions appear to be on lock.
Speaking of the O line, word has bubbled up that OL Coach Mario Cristobal has tinkered with the Tide’s zone blocking schemes, a move that can be taken as a positive or a negative. It could represent the kind of fine tuning we hope to see at this point in the pre-season, but it could also be indicative of the coaching staff’s desire to limit the system to the skill set of the players who are expected to start. I don’t know how to read this one, but time will certainly tell which is the more likely scenario.
Finally, a brief update on Tide CB Eddie Jackson. Jackson appears to be adequately recovered from his pre-season injury and surgery, as he is fulfilling the responsibilities of his role despite wearing a knee brace throughout camp. If Jackson is 100% by the time the season rolls around, that could be very good news for a Tide backfield that must prove itself in light of the events of last season.
The Tide will scrimmage on Saturday, August 9, followed by the typical post scrimmage presser from ODL. Don’t expect anything too illuminating, as Saban reiterated in today’s press conference that this scrimmage will be heavy on the mental part of competition: evaluating the players’ adjustments and decision-making, and ensuring the coaching staff can get them in the right positions in simulated game situations. Saban said he’ll be looking to make sure players are able to make calls and get in position, adjust to blocking assignments and coverages, and execute in live-fire situations. To quote ODL once again, "We want to know, how ready are you to play?"
Can’t speak for the team, Coach, but I know I’m sure as hell ready to play. Roll Tide.