There have been two main themes during SEC Media Days 2016: 1. No one seemingly has named a starting quarterback, and 2. the coaches and commissioner have been uniformly buttoned-down, almost to the point of boring, in their addresses to the media.
Day Three brought the main event, the always cantankerous, usually agenda-driven, highly-quotable Nick Saban. Just when you think you know the man, however, he throws everyone a curveball by being decidedly non-confrontational and just-the-facts to a degree that Sgt. Joe Friday is suing him for trademark infringement.
Many more articles rife with hot takes are probably forthcoming across the internet, so, like Coach Saban, we’ll largely stick the facts here (and paraphrase the verbose Saban, as we do so.)
- First of all, Coach Saban made it through a brief speech and 14 questions, without addressing Cam Robinson (nor should it have been addressed, TBH, despite Finebaum’s live broadcast hissy fit. If ESPN/SECN had paid attention, Saban has alluded several times over the past month that Robinson and Jones’ discipline would be internal, and would involve behavioral issues, community service and other team discipline. If the coach has not addressed suspension for a half a gram of weed (again, the weight of a paper clip,) then those guys are probably not being suspended. Keep up, fellas.)
- Saban began by giving a special word of thanks and best wishes to two SEC legends — the departed Steve Spurrier (“a great innovator for the game”) and Verne Lundqvist, the latter he praised for his body of work not only on the SEC on CBS, but as the voice of college football for four decades. (Say what you will about SOS and Verne, but they are legends and will be missed.)
- Saban echoed the Commissioner with respect to the benefits of college athletics, highlighting Alabama’s holistic programs in place for their players (educational, occupational, behavioral, psychological, and developmental.) He also emphasized Alabama’s sterling track record in graduating players (80%+, one of the best in the country.) The sky is not falling, he said; for every negative story there are hundreds of people benefiting in many ways behind the scenes, and athletics provides them with so many opportunities and skills to grow to be a success no matter their future endeavors.
- With regard to last year’s team and the challenges that face the Tide this season: 2015’s squad had intangibles that have to be grown and aren’t just innate. In addition to talent that will be hard to replace, there were so many team leaders, great team chemistry, and other intangibles that made it special. Each year is a different team, and as a coach, you never really know who will step into those roles, how the team will develop, how they respond to adversity and the like. But, it is a growing process that does not spring from the head of Zeus. (This is largely true too — remember going into October last season, as fans we were lamenting the lack of identity on that squad; there were leaders, but the pieces had not fallen into place.)
- The outlook on the 2016 Crimson Tide offense: Overall is very pleased with practice, preparation, off-season conditioning and development. Of course, for the third year in a row, the biggest question is who will step up to win the QB job. He makes clear (like Sumlin echoes) that it is a matter of winning the job by winning the team. Another area of concern is that this year’s feature back will be a guy with little experience. Since he has been in Tuscaloosa, every team has had one returning RB that has a good deal of experience and is ready to step into the role of starter. He also notes that the Tide has very talented WRs. (As we’ve harped upon all offseason, this is probably the most talented group to ever wear Crimson.)
- The outlooks on the 2016 Crimson Tide defense: In what would be a recurring theme, Saban stresses that the Tide do not enjoy the elite depth that they had last season, particularly with specialty players that are necessary to compete at a high level against modern offenses. He notes that Tim Williams, who had 10.5 sacks, only played third downs last year. Jonathan Allen, Rashaan Evans, and others who were situational players, fresh and rested off the bench, will now have to be every-down guys. Says he has very good players, but certainly not the depth, particularly upfront. Says that whether the team’s pieces can come together to fill those specialty roles is particularly uncertain this year.
- On new coaches: The old is new again, basically. Jeremy Pruitt (DC,) Derrick Ansley (DBs,) and Karl Dunbar (DL) are all familiar with his system, and have coached with Saban previously, whether at LSU or at Alabama. Notes the great success particularly that Jeremy Pruitt had at FSU and Georgia improving those defensive units. Bobby Williams moving off the field has been of great benefit serving Saban as a personal assistant. The hiring of Brent Key to work with the interior line, while shifting Coach Cristobal to tackles and tight ends, has been “enthusiastic, passionate” (and, we will presume, much more physical on the interior.)
Part Two is coming up in about an hour.