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Nick Saban SEC Media Days & Finebaum Recap: “We don’t want to waste that failure.”

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That is the theme for a young team in 2017

CFP National Championship
It still hurts. Watching Humphrey count his money while blowing coverages hurts more.
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Unlike other SEC Media Days’ past, where Nick Saban would use the event as a springboard to advance an overarching agenda, this year’s appearance was 100% business, focusing on his team.

And, in talking about this young Alabama team, a theme emerged, “we don’t want to waste that failure.” We need not discuss what “that failure” is. It’s etched in everyone’s mind and likely will be as long as we live, and it burns as brightly in no one quite like the head man.

That singular focus and heads-down intensity is bad news for the rest of the league.

Here is a recap:

On longevity and coaching at Alabama:

This is his 16th SEC Media Days, and his 11th at Alabama. He quipped that reporters in the room probably didn’t expect that. But to be maintain success in the league, you obviously must win and must also have support from the administration, from the fans and provide the resources to commit to giving student-athletes value.

Emphasis on Student-Athletes

Alabama was an early proponent of giving NFL scouts as much access to players as possible. The NFL is unique in that it has D-league; college is the first and only chance players have to get a professional career. The lifeblood of that job security is largely conditioned on being a first or second round pick and the guaranteed money that it provides you. Therefore, getting as much data and the best information as possible creates a more informed business decision.

One of the things he’s most pleased with are the opportunities Alabama provides for players outside of football: career development, communications, community information, academic support, personal development and the like

Alabama has had 101 players participate in bowl and playoff games that have already earned their degrees just the past four years. That is by far the most in the country. Likewise, Alabama’s APR and graduation rate are consistently among the best in the nation.

On the offense

Brian Daboll has been a great fit for the program in terms of reinstalling a pro-style passing attack but still making it work with the spread option elements Alabama has adopted. The players are responding well to both he and Mike Locksley, and rapport has developed nicely with the offensive players.

In that vein, Jalen Hurts has been improving on his passing and is working on becoming more consistent in the passing game. Saban seemed particularly excited that Alabama returns a starting QB for the first time since 2013. The downside to that is that this will be one of the youngest teams Alabama has fielded under his tenure, making the comparison to all of the young players that were relied upon in the 2012 season.

The freshmen offensive skills players are hard to evaluate, many are not on campus. However, the players have developed and they are progressing well in their 7-on-7s and individual drills and workouts outside of team activities.

It is a challenging season with respect to the offense: it will have to do the heavy-lifting carrying the team while the defense comes along and develops.

Four starters along the offensive line are set. He believes there are another four or five players that had moments in the spring that showed that they can compete. Additionally, Alabama is bringing in Freshmen that will be given a look. At this point it’s a matter of finding that steady fifth starter to play either guard or tackle and work well with the other guys. That tells me that Matt Womack, who can move inside, has probably locked down the fourth spot alongside Ross Pierschbacher, Bradley Bozeman and Jonah Williams.

NCAA Football: SEC Media Days Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

Team identity and theme

Saban emphasized repeatedly that this is a young team. As such, developing an identity will be critical on both sides of the ball, particularly on defense where Alabama lost seven players to the NFL. It is a challenging season. These were comments echoed by Calvin Ridley as well.

Developing an identity, however, is a player-directed endeavor. They must build that for themselves and buy-in to make it happen. Coach Saban mentioned nothing of leadership, as he usually does. I think it’s a safe assumption that Minkah Fitzpatrick and Jalen Hurts are the unquestioned leaders of their respective units.

While the loss hurts, he hopes that the self-evaluation period prompts players to want to change, to want to learn and grow, to “not waste the failure.” He used that phrase three times in two minutes. For the veterans returning, that message seems to be directed to capitalize upon that pain.

Defense

Inside linebacker is a position of strength, particularly Rashaan Evans and Shaun Dion Hamilton who were playing well last year. Mack Wilson is making progress and will add depth. He also has the athleticism to move the outside and situationally rush the passer (swoon!)

All members of the secondary have been on campus since Spring -- they are all returning or early enrollees. The younger players will need continued development through the fall.

Rules changes and safety

Saban plainly doesn’t like the mandatory 15-yarder for walking on the playing surface. He believes the NCAA took a “sledghammer” approach that could have been prevented had the officials called coaches for unsportsmanlike conduct in the past. But a lot of unpenalized “unacceptable” behavior by some coaches led to this outcome.

Player safety is always an emphasis. Alabama coaches its players to show the outcomes that can happen to its players and what can be inflicted upon others. By emphasizing the heath consequences to self and others players usually buy-in.

NCAA Football: Alabama Spring Game-A-Day Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

FSU

Saban favorably compared the ‘Noles to an SEC team, and said they are “fast, explosive, big, tough, physical, and play great defense.” He believes that Jimbo Fisher’s experience in the SEC helped shape his preference for building that kind of team.

Nick Saban notes that the season will be challenging for the younger players, especially on defense, placing emphasis on the challenge that Florida State poses. Minkah and Calvin both were really pumped for this game too.

Injuries

Shaun Dion Hamilton was held out of spring. However, he has participated in all team activities and is under no restrictions. He will be ready to go at Fall camp.

Bo Scarbrough was held out of the A-Day game, but has participated in all spring and fall activities. There should no be no lingering issues and he’ll be ready for fall camp.

Special Teams

Coach singled out J.K. Scott as one of the best punters in the nation, and that it is the core of a good special teams, which he emphasizes.

For the placekicker and long snapper roles, an open competition will begin in the fall. (Although, I don’t really think it’s much of a competition. Alabama signed the best LS in the nation, and Bulovas was practically penciled in the moment he faxed his LOI.)

Alabama’s dominance

Many reporters have asked about whether the SEC is a one-team league, and whether there is an “Alabama gap.” Nick Saban shot that down, instantly bringing up the talent of LSU, Ole Miss’ record recently, the talent at State, the job Kirby is doing, Vandy making a bowl, Tennessee improving every season, and other indicators of parity. He did notably not mention Auburn.

Defending the triple option

This question came out of nowhere, but he was asked about Alabama’s difficulties defending the triple option in 2011 and what makes the offense so difficult to prepare for -- the infamous “shit through a tin horn” game. He obviously observed that it’s a rare offense to see, but it’s not just the rarity that makes it difficult to defend. Unless you run the offense, you have to bring people in to teach it to you so that you can coach it to the players. Even then, it’s difficult because the players can’t learn it in just one week, the scout team can never replicate the speed of it either.

Post-Finebaum remarks

Winning brings complacency. Losing can teach you a lot about finishing and it provides you an opportunity in that respect.

He said that Alabama protected the quarterback too much last season and when Alabama needed to make plays in the passing game, Jalen Hurts had not been developed enough to do it. Brian Daboll has done a great job working with Jalen, both in establishing a relationship with him and in helping him improve his consistency as a passer.

The pass rush will feel the loss of Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams. The OLBs in Alabama defense’s help take pressure off the defensive ends.

Parity will be closer this year in the SEC mainly because the quality of quarterbacking will be so much better than in 2016, particularly in the West.

What is the one area where you have the longest area to go? For Alabama it is the identity of the defensive team, especially the front seven. The defensive front seven sets the entire team’s identity and tempo. His concern is that the new players are so focused on making sure they know what they’re doing that they may not be able to “set the tempo.”

The secondary will get more pressure this year because Alabama will not be able to just rely on its front four to get pressure. The Tide cannot just run split safeties and make plays.

While there is not a quarterback controversy, if Tua can develop and improve and play winning football, and he has the need to see the field to do that this year, then he “absolutely” will see meaningful snaps outside of blowouts.