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Jumbo Package: Nick Saban talks up a trio of young players ahead of season opener

True freshman making an impact for the best team in football? It’s an annual tradition

NCAA Football: Alabama at Florida Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Saban kept his usual Wednesday press conference rather short this week.

The last time the Crimson Tide wasn’t opening a season inside an NFL stadium was in 2011 when UA welcomed Kent State, Nick Saban’s alma mater, to Tuscaloosa. Every season since, Alabama has played a Power 5 opponent in places like Atlanta or Dallas, but with the Crimson Tide shifting its scheduling philosophy to home-and-home series, this year is different.

“We always played neutral-site games in the past because of scheduling issues,” Saban said. “It was a great experience for fans for a long time, and we always were able to get a really good opponent to play. But we kind of changed philosophies in trying to get home-and-home games so that we could play really good opponents home and away. We think that Utah State is a good opponent, and it’s great to always play at home. I know the players look forward to it.”

Nick also made it a point that he doesn’t want his players (paraphrased) playing harder because they’re in front of their own fans. He wants them playing at their best regardless of what stadium they’re in.

On the status of injured freshmen Aaron Anderson, Isaiah Hastings, Earl Little, Elijah Pritchett…

“No different. I’m not gonna give an injury report in here every week, OK? When those guys are ready to play, we’ll let you know. They all had significant injuries. Some of them are practicing in black jerseys, and there’s no real timetable for knowing when they’re gonna return.”

Yup. Nick is definitely pretty short with us this week. No time for long diatribes and philosophizing when there’s an opponent to obliterate on Saturday.

He did get a little more chatty later on the SEC teleconference:

On former Alabama linebacker Drew Sanders, who is now at Arkansas…

“He’s a fine young man, really good football player, played extremely well for us last year. Had an unfortunate injury that held him back, and he would have probably been a starter here this year. I’m sure he’s probably gonna do really well where he is there at Arkansas. He’s a great competitor. He’s a good person. So I can’t say enough good things about him.”

Oof. Sanders was a really solid player for Alabama last year who got injured, and then I guess got in his feels about Dallas Turner coming in and racking up 8 sacks in half a season in his place.

By the sound of it, Sanders, had he been a little more patient, likely would have been beside Henry To’oTo’o at inside linebacker this season... Which, is the same move he’s already made at Arkansas, getting away from pass rushing and into an off-ball linebacker.

On Kobe Prentice, Jaheim Oatis, Terrion Arnold ahead of what could be their first starts…

“They’ve all played well and made really good progress. It’s gonna be interesting to see how they all react when the fur flies and they go out there in real competition, if they can stay focused play in and play out to do the job the way we think they’re capable of doing it. But I think in opening games, you find out a lot about your team and you find out a lot about the individual players, especially young players. We’ve got a lot of confidence in these guys, but it’ll be a great test for them.”

These three players were all surprise youngsters on the depth chart, and that’s always exciting. I’ve been particularly worried about the Tide’s receivers lacking a high-octane, big-play type of threat, so Prentice rocketing up the depth chart as a freshman just might be what has me most excited for game 1.

The NCAA Division I Board of Governors adopted one major change to transfer portal rules on Wednesday, but opted not to enact another.

Under the new rule, athletes will be required to give notice of intent to transfer within certain “windows” that vary depending on the sport. Here are those parameters:

• In fall sports such as football, athletes would be required to give notice that they intend to transfer within 45 days of “championship selection” (i.e., announcement of bowl game pairings) or from May 1-15, in order to be eligible to play the following season.

This, at least, is a good move from the NCAA to limit the utter chaos of the transfer portal into more manageable periods of time. This would have been nice two years ago... But hey, it’s a step in the right direction.

Brown lost his roster spot to Luke Tenuta, an offensive tackle awarded to the Colts after the Buffalo Bills waived him.

Brown remained with the Colts, though, by signing with the Indianapolis practice squad. As a vested veteran, Brown did not have to pass through waivers.

Mostly just a roster shuffling thing for Tony Brown here, and he’ll still be on the practice squad, which means he’ll get elevated up to the active roster 6 times before the team has to decide they want to pay his full vested veteran salary to play more for them.

If not... Any team in the league can poach him. It’s a decent deal for someone who’s essentially a free agent with a 6-game showcase.

Finally, Baltimore continues to be a major supporter of Alabama alumni:

Released by the Las Vegas Raiders last week, running back Kenyan Drake returned to the NFL on Wednesday by signing with the Baltimore Ravens.

The Ravens had been counting on running backs Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins coming back after missing the entire 2021 season. But Edwards isn’t ready and will miss at least the first four games of the 2022 season, and Baltimore coach John Harbaugh wasn’t sure on Monday if Dobbins would be available for the season-opening game on Sept. 11.

Drake had some really nice moments in Miami and Arizona, but couldn’t find his groove in Vegas. Running back careers are notably short, so this is likely Drake’s last stop if he doesn’t carve out a good role for himself... And the Baltimore offense is likely one of the best in the NFL for it. The Ravens are exceptional at designing running schemes, and the ever present threat of Lamar Jackson tends to keep defenses from keying in on a RB.

Roll Tide!