Aug. 9, 2009
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Alabama's 2009 Football Media Day concluded Sunday afternoon at Bryant-Denny Stadium with an open practice followed by Fan Day. An estimated crowd of over 10,000 patrons watched the Crimson Tide go through a two-hour workout in shoulder pads and helmets before spilling onto the field for Fan Day, which consisted of the Tide players and coaches signing autographs for 45 minutes.
Head Coach Nick Saban
"It's probably a good program to have the acclimation that we have right now from shirts to shoulder pads, especially in this part of the country where the heat can be an issue. I was really pleased because when you go back and put shells on you can work a little bit more on how to do things, especially anything that requires any kind of blocking, block protection, cutting which is a prerequisite for tackling - some of the things that make you a good football team. We've made some progress in that area. It's a little bit more challenging for the players, as it will be tomorrow when we acclimate to having full pads on. I think it's a good progression for them as we get into it. I think it's smart that we do it the way we do it and I'm not disappointed at all with the progress that our team is making."
"We really try to control the work. We want every individual player to make good choices and decisions about how they go about preparing themselves to be the best players they can be. When I get asked about freshmen, what allude to is, `are they going to be able to this? Will they be able to do this?' That will be the biggest challenge for each one of them. We kind of tell our players all the time that you control you choices, but you don't control your consequences. I'm talking about them as football players and I'm talking about in everything that they do. They can choose to be overweight. They can choose not to do the work they need to do to get in shape. They can choose not to finish things in practice. They can choose the level of discipline, execution and doing things the right way, but they can't really choose what all that creates. It's like you can make choices in life not to do the right things, but when you get arrested you don't control that consequences, and they need to understand that. I think football is a circumstance where they have an opportunity to learn a lot of these things and hopefully that will help them become better football players, but also help them to become better people."
"After a few days - you know we had spring practice together - but I'm really pleased with the coaching staff and the chemistry that we have on the coaching staff and that has worked out for us. You guys get to talk to Kirby (Smart) and Mac (Jim McElwain) a little bit today, but I really feel like we have a lot experience on our staff, and we have a lot of different personality types that sort of blend together to make a good team. Some are enthusiastic, some are good teachers and some are a little older and laid back, but the combination of all the above sort of makes a good team. I think you need different personality types and for everybody to not be the same to sort of get that."
"I don't think we have any injuries of any consequence to report, at least to this point and we'll certainly keep you abreast of that as we go."
"Our congratulations go out to the Derrick Thomas family for this induction into the NFL Hall of Fame. It is certainly an honor for his legacy and his family, as well as the University of Alabama and the pride we have in all that he was able to accomplish in his life. It's great that the National Football League Hall of Fame recognized that." On
Milton Talbert working with the linebackers:
"It's experimental. We move guys around and we're moving a lot of guys around at linebacker. Most of those good players that we've coached in the past at linebacker can play inside or out, and we certainly don't want to lose the continuity and experience that you develop, but you also want to continue to experiment and make sure that you are getting the best players on the field. We probably have a few more defensive linemen right now than maybe we had a few years ago, so this jack position is a combination of a defensive end and an outside linebacker. All we've looked at from any defensive linemen types that may be athletic enough to play there - that's how Fanney (Brandon) ended up there - so we know. He's (Talbert) done fairly well actually at that position. It may be something that works for us down the road, or maybe we'll move him back to defensive line and that won't be decided until after the first scrimmage."
On Kirby Smart and the defensive staff:
"Kirby has been with us for a long time. He has a very good understanding of what we do. He was at LSU and Miami. He has been here for a couple of years. You guys know that I spend a little bit more time with the defensive backs than other parts of the team, especially at camp and when there are learning and teaching type things. With five and six defensive backs in the game, it's hard for one guy to coach all those guys. Even though we have a graduate assistant in there, I am his graduate assistant. That works out well and helps us develop some of those players. Kirby, because we've been together like that for a long time, really has a lot of the knowledge and experience that I've been able to sort of pass along to him. His ability to apply in the game and be good signal caller, I think has been beneficial to us. I think it was beneficial to us last year. He assumed a little bit more of that because he was a coordinator and we had a kind of co-coordinator type thing. Sal (Sunseri) has a lot of experience and can contribute in a different way. Probably the one thing we needed was a really good pass rush coach on our team and that is something that Sal is really good at. The combination of him and outside linebackers and pass rushing is good. James (Willis) has been in our system before through Will [(Muschamp) at Auburn] and has a good understanding of how we do things, and understands the concepts of our coverage and pressures. Sometimes when we hire people they have a hard time figuring it all out. You have to be able to figure it out before you teach it. I am really pleased with where we are on the defensive staff. Coach Steele did a fantastic job here. We talk to him on occasion and wish him the best where he's at now, but I really feel good about the people we have in place here."
On opening the season against Virginia Tech:
"I'm concerned about each opponent that we play one game at a time. Virginia Tech has very, very good team. I think that regardless of who you open with, you're always concerned about anybody that has to play in that game that doesn't have a lot of experience, and I would say that probably gets magnified a little bit at the quarterback position, although I think Greg (McElroy) has done very good job throughout not only this camp, but also in the spring. I feel like he has done a lot to gain the respect of his teammates and has done a good job of effectively executing what we want to do. How he responds to a game-like situation is why we have to play him. I'm not really concerned about it, we're just going to do everything we can to support him and help him and develop so that he can manage it the best he can, and our team can do the best it can in that particular game. Virginia Tech will have an outstanding team and one thing that will be a challenge is you have to match their toughness. They're a tough team, they play physical and they play very aggressive. They are a good defensive team and are always really good on special teams. They pride themselves in scoring non-offensive touchdowns. They probably have better guys on offense, skill wise, than most teams. They have a very good quarterback, really good tight ends, 10 starters back and the offensive line is back. They had young receivers last year and I'm sure they're going to grow and develop, and they've got two really good running backs. It will be a challenging game, for every facet of our team."
On the difficulties associated with transitioning from NFL coaching to college coaching:
"I think you have to adapt, first of all to a different field. The hash mark does make a difference in college football. A lot of people play boundary and field defenses, which is a simpler way rather than playing formation defenses. We sort of play a combination of both here if we need to, which you don't do in the NFL. It can affect adjustments that you have to make when the ball is on the hash. Those same adjustments don't work as well in the middle of the field. I think the diversity in offenses that you see in college is far beyond the stereotype offenses that you see in the NFL, because the quarterback is never going to be a runner. I think the biggest difference in college football and pro football in those offenses in that the quarterback will run. The new offenses, the spreads and things we've talked about, are all things where the quarterback is the feature part of the offense, in something other than being a passer, whether it's option football, zone option, or quarterback run, all those things are the major differences, but systematically you don't have to change your system. You just have to adapt it so that you have enough people to be able to do it. I think that we've done that fairly effectively here and we'll have to continue to do that, but ironically enough probably the worst game we played on defense last year was against a team that was not a spread offense and didn't have a running quarterback - four wide outs and empty. That's something you see all time in the NFL. It's even more important to have experienced players who can adapt from week to week because there are significant changes in how you defend, or you have to become extremely simple. If you're extremely simple then you better be better than the other guys because you're not going to create, schematically, much in helping your players make plays. They're going to have to do it on their own ability and talent. I think a combination of both is the best way to be effective."
On the depth at kicking positions:
"We have two punters and two kickers. Fall camp used to be a huge thing because it lasted for a long time. School started on Labor Day, so we would have fall camp for 30 days then they would have school. Now school starts on August 19. We can bring other people in on August 19. They've really effectively missed 14 or 15 practices. There may be backup players, especially from a specialists standpoint that we would just as soon have position players here now that are going to go out there and work every day and take reps, so that we don't have some position by not having the correct numbers, as to have 14 punters, kicker and long snappers who, what do they do in practice? They don't run out for any passes. I love them, don't get me wrong. We're trying to train an army and those guys are strictly assassins. They have to do one thing, one time and make it work. They don't need the training. They just have to know when to sit in the window and know when to take the shot. We just don't like to not have enough receivers, DBs, linebackers, defensive linemen or offensive linemen. The way we practice with two and three spot drills going on there is not a lot of standing around. If we don't have enough numbers we can't really practice that way. Lee (Tiffin) is the backup punter, so that's two. We brought a freshmen kicker in who is competing to be the backup kicker, so we still have two of those. We still have two long snappers."
On Julio Jones playing through injuries last season:
"He has a tremendous amount of toughness. From my perspective, I don't think he did anything to overstate it. He was tough, overcame a lot, has tremendous mental toughness and is a great competitor and plays with a lot of physical toughness - but he practiced all the time. The sports hernia thing is sort of very debilitating and they get worse over time. We were proactive in getting his taken care of so it would not continue to get worse. He was still functional. The shoulder injury was a problem for him late in the season and he demonstrated tremendous mental and physical toughness to overcome those things." "The way he competed and played in the LSU game for example is unbelievable and it would be nice to have a lot of young players to watch some of that and see that effort and toughness. It's amazing when we do something as simple as a kickoff coverage drill at the end of practice and we are looking. You would think that some of the younger guys that have an opportunity to play on special teams would be running down there through those bags like demons, straining their gut and all that. When you watch the tape, Rolando McClain, Hightower, Julio, Jaiver - the guys who I see their pictures in the paper for making Playboy All-American - they're the ones running down on that. The one thing it does is it sets a tremendous example for these young guys. They see that and say, "wow, I thought I was running fast, but I really wasn't running very fast compared to those guys and I'm just as fast as they are." So what is that? It's the self-imposed limitations they put on themselves because they're a little bit hot, a little bit tired and a little bit overloaded circuitry wise in terms of the learning curve they're going through and all that builds a little anxiety and affects them, but I think they'll respond in the right way because they're getting a good example. It's leadership by example. "
Offensive Coordinator Jim McElwain Opening Statement:
"I am really looking forward to our second season as an offensive staff. I think that is something that gets lost in the shuffle. Now that we have had a full year together, people speak in all the same language now, where before people were speaking in languages from all over the country. In football, there are a lot of different ways to call things, so making sure everyone is on the same page will be a real bonus for us. I can't tell you how happy I am to have the guys that we have on our offensive staff. They are all great coaches and they do a great job. This year, from a personal standpoint, it is one of those really exciting years because my oldest daughter is going to college. We fended off a lot of schools across the country, and she is going to be in the Honors Program here at the University of Alabama. We are excited as a family to be here in Tuscaloosa and be part of the Crimson Tide family. We get a chance to get back to Montana for about two or three days a year, and to see a Crimson Tide No. 8 jersey walking down the street in Polson, Montana, really tells you what this program is all about, not only in the South, but around the United States. It is an honor to be a part of something like that. We are really looking forward to the challenge of this season. What happened last year doesn't matter. This is a new year and a new group of guys. We learned and there were some guys who took so valuable snaps last year, but now it's a matter of fitting those pieces together and coming together as a group to find our identity. The two-a-days we are doing right now is a focus on us getting better, getting physical, and getting in the mental condition we need to be in. We are trying to determine who our playmakers are, how to play as a team, and how to play together. Those are the things we are trying to establish and will establish before we get into that first ballgame."
On if the receiver position will be more important this season than last season:
"We are trying to create depth at each position right now. Not only find out who our first guy will be, but also find out who that second and third guy will be. We went through a season last year where we didn't have many injuries on offense and were able to stay pretty solid. We start working now on developing that third and maybe even that fourth receiver to get some depth and not necessarily have the two tight ends like last season. Those are things we are looking at and messed around with a little in spring."
On what to expect from the offense with a new quarterback this season:
"We are the University of Alabama, so that answers what we should want to be and what we should want to live up to. For myself and where we are as an offensive staff, you have to tear off the rear-view mirror. What happened then happened. We have to create our own identity. We might have more ability this season but not be as successful. Those are the things we have to develop offensively. The expectations I have for us over the next couple of weeks is to learn to play as a team and play as a unit, as well as make sure we have each other's back. So those are the expectations I have right now."
On his ideal offense:
"The ideal offense is quite simple for me: if we go 14-0, then we have the ideal offense. The offensive guru guys are so interested in numbers. But whatever we can do to play to the strengths of this football team, and I mean all three phases. Being around long enough and coaching different positions and being involved with special teams, you actually learn that there is more than just what we have to do offensively to make a name for ourselves. We need to make a name for Alabama. To do that, we need to play to the strengths of this team on offense, defense, and special teams."
On what he likes most about QB Greg McElroy:
"Greg is a guy who really deserves the shot at what he is doing right now. He is a true team guy and a true leader. He graduated yesterday, and that is in three years, so that says a lot about the intelligence he has. I am excited to see how he performs. I won't put any added expectations on him. He is responsible for orchestrating what we need to do offensively."
On who is stepping up at the receiver position:
"Right now, that is what the whole discovery is. Everyone wants to hear a name, but this isn't fantasy football. It is the Alabama Crimson Tide. We have two-a-days to find out which one of those receivers is going to step up at each of those positions. At this time last year, I couldn't have sat here and told you Julio was going to be what he was. It's about how they handle that change from high school to college. How they handle the speed, the intensity of practice, and prepare themselves to learn and get better. That's why we have practice."
On the progress of the offensive line:
"There is often a cohesive unit within the five. I think that one thing that makes offenses great is the offensive line. When we give weekly awards, we give the awards to the ones who don't show up in the box score. Some guy catches a pass, and he is all over the TV and in the newspapers. Or some guy hits a long run, he gets his name in the paper. It's those guys who don't show up in the box score that do a great job to get those guys in the box score. Those are the guys that we make sure are honored in front of our team to make sure everyone knows the importance of them. We are starting to put those parts in place to get them to work together."
Defensive Coordinator Kirby Smart
"Camp is going pretty well so far. I'm excited, we've got a lot of guys out there eager and ready to learn and be taught. The main thing for us is just learning and teaching, especially the young players, while continuing to develop the older players. We've got a lot of talented players back and they can't become complacent. We've got to continue to work hard and those guys are doing a good job of teaching the younger guys. We're excited about those guys. Last year was pretty good defensively but obviously we did not finish the season like we wanted to. The last two games we a defensive disappointment to say the least. Our kids are focused and really excited about working hard and we're excited about working with them."
On if staff duties have remained consistent on defense:
"As far as what I'm doing and what Coach Saban is doing, nothing's really changed in that format. Obviously with the two news guys, we're excited about Coach [James] Willis and Coach Sal [Sunseri] They have done a great job for us and will continue to do a great job. Everything is primarily the same with the exception of those two new guys."
On replacing Rashad Johnson's leadership:
"I think everybody takes a role in that. Each player has to step up and play a little better. There's a lot of competition out there at that spot, there's a lot of competition at every spot and we're looking forward to it. Rashad was a great player, we wish him well, and have to have somebody step up." On Rolando's McClain leadership:
"Rolando is a great kid. He's got a great personality and is exciting out there on the field. He really enjoys practice and practices hard. That, in of itself, is enough for the younger players to see that and see the way you're supposed to practice, with a lot of energy. That's the way he leads, by example."
On what has been learned after the last two games of the past season:
"I hope we've done enough in the offseason to address it. We've met with a lot of people and watched a lot of tape. To say they're [Florida and Utah] are similar is a bit of a misnomer for me. They really weren't very similar. Florida is really physical and will run the ball at you. Obviously in the fourth quarter of that game, we didn't do a very good job in the red area. The Utah situation was a little more finesse, and they didn't run the ball as much. We hope we've addressed those things. All you can do is practice it and attack it the best you can."
Javier Arenas' strengths despite his size:
"Javy's a great competitor. He's one of those guys that comes to work every day to compete hard. It bothers him when someone completes a five-yard out against him. He gets motivated through a fear of failure and competitive nature. He's a great young man to be around, and he has some great physical attributes with his great leaping ability. He's strong, very strong for his size. Probably the strongest guy on the team pound-for-pound and that gives him the ability to compete every day.
On if there was a priority given to improving the pass rush:
"That's a big emphasis for us. We've got to get a better pass rush and that comes from two things. If you cover a little better you give them a little bit more time to get there and if you get there faster you don't have to cover as long. As far as attacking that in the offseason, Coach Sal [Sunseri] came from the Carolina Panthers where he worked with John Fox, who is one of the best in the business at rushing the passer. He's brought a lot of new ideas and a lot of energy and hopefully we can improve that. It's a big emphasis for the guys up front that we've got to do a better job of getting to the quarterback."
On what's he's learned from Saban:
"His attention to detail, his intensity is unmatched. There's not going to be a day where he takes a day off. There's not going to be a day where he's not out there with his full intensity coaching with his `A' game. His emphasis is not always what to do, but how to do it. That's what makes him different than a lot of coaches. He's physically trying to teach you how to do it, how to improve. It makes the player appreciate it because you show him how he can improve. His intensity in doing that is what makes him a great coach."
On if Saban's approach has differed from his previous work:
"The approach is to get good players, get young players and put them in your system and allow them to develop. If you look over his history, his second, third and fourth years have always been better because the players buy into the system, compete harder and he makes them physically tougher, mentally tougher and develops the whole person."
Cornerback Javier Arenas
On what he prides himself in:
"Getting it right. I know that everything that Coach Saban teaches me, you've got to treasure it. If it was any other DB coach, they would expect a lot of me, but not as much as he does. That's why I try to strive to do everything right and that, combined with me wanting to be great, those two keep me going hard. My goal and what I want to accomplish is to do the best I can at everything I do.
Linebacker Rolando McClain
On the strength of the defense:
"I think we can be a good defense, but going further than that, I think we can be a good team. The offense has been working hard and pushing us to be a good defense and we're pushing them to be a good offense. When it's all said and done I think we'll be more than just a good defense."
Nose Guard Terrance Cody
On Fan Day:
"It's exciting giving back to fans and enjoying it. We like to give them a show a give back to them."