Countdown to Kickoff
Week One Press Conference Transcript



Aug. 29, 2011

Head Coach Nick Saban

Opening statement:
"I would say that we're very, very excited to open the season for a lot of different reasons. First of all, I think our players are probably tired of practicing against one another and are looking forward to the season, the competition, and trying to create an identity for themselves, which I think is always the challenge for any team.  Also maybe for the sake of our community, from the standpoint of giving people from a spiritual standpoint something else to think about, something else to be passionate about, something else to create hope about and also to continue to create awareness for the community.  A lot of people are going to come to the game and see Tuscaloosa maybe for the first time and maybe that will inspire some people to continue to try to help to rebuild our community."

"I think the number one thing that is a priority for our players is you've got to take the attitude in first games, especially when you're playing against a team that has a new coach, which you're not always exactly sure of what you're going to see.  They've got a coordinator from Purdue on offense.  They've got a coordinator from Youngstown State on defense.  You see what they did last year.  You see what their personnel is.  You don't know if they're going to run Ohio State's offense.  There's a lot of unknowns, more unknowns than you usually have in preparation for a game.  Really the key thing is to take care of business.  Everybody take the approach to take care of business and challenge themselves to prepare well, play the best football, see where our team is and work to create an identity of who we want to be, what we want to be, what we want to accomplish and spend our time focused on those things."

"We don't have any players injured. Trent Richardson is excused from practice today because of a death in the family.  Everybody else will be practicing today.  The Duron Carter situation, although we're optimistic that it may get done at some point today or tomorrow, we still don't have verified information that we could say it is done.  He may be at practice today; he may be at practice tomorrow.  We don't have the information.  He has to be admitted to school and until that happens, I'm really not free to comment on what that circumstance or situation is.  We are optimistic that it is going to get done.  Even if it is done, we would put a plan into action to try to work him into shape. He probably wouldn't have a lot of opportunity in this game; we would try to use this week to help him implement into what he needs to do as a football player to try to get ready for some time down the road.  Maybe a week or so from now, he could be a guy that could work his way into something if he performs well."

"We have a tremendous amount of respect for every team that we play.  We certainly have a lot of respect for them [Kent State].  They have a lot of players back from a team last year that made a lot of progress and played well as a football team.  Their defense was in the top ten in the country.  They played very well.  They're physical.  They were tough, especially for their league.  They say they have five starters back, but you really could figure they have nine back.  They say they have nine starters back on offense but you really could say they have all eleven back based on how guys played.  They have a lot of returning people; they have a mature team.  They've played in places like Penn State last year and all that.  I'm sure they're looking forward to coming here and playing in front of 100,000 people.  We certainly have a lot of respect for the kind of team they have, what they're capable of.  It's going to be about our team taking care of their business."

"I'd again like to thank the players that came down here and contributed to the cleanup and worked with our players this summer.  I think it speaks volumes of somebody who would take their time to serve and help other people, and we certainly appreciate all they did."

On Barrett Jones:
"The only place he hasn't practiced this fall camp is right tackle. I'm not one that likes to make multiple moves when you lose someone, but we feel like we have a little more depth in the offensive line, and that there are advantages and disadvantages to both when Barrett plays left tackle and to when Barrett plays guard. "

On Cyrus Kouandjio:
"We want to see how Cyrus plays in this game. We will play him some, and we'll kind of make a determination as to where we go from there. He's done well. I think a lot of these guys have very good physical ability, but they haven't had to pay attention to detail when it comes to technique. It's almost a new horizon for them when all of a sudden if they don't do it right, they aren't just physically better than the other guy, so if they don't use correct technique it creates an issue and a problem. They don't even have a great capacity for learning technique because they've really never had to do it that much. I think that's what a lot of our freshman go through, and I'm not just talking about Cyrus. I think they underestimate the importance of that in terms of their quality of performance as a college football player. I think Cyrus has made good progress in that area and will continue to do that. He's a guy we would like to see develop through the course of the year, and one of the parts of his development will be to see how he responds when he gets in a game situation and plays."

On the defense's experience:
"Well we obviously have a lot of guys who have some experience and have played a lot of football. You've heard me say before it all depends on what they do with this experience; is this a challenge for them to play at a higher level or does this experience create a comfort zone for them to think that they already have it and don't need to work to do things better, and with the kind of effort, toughness and execution that will help us be a better defensive team. So I like the experience, and I like the leadership. We just have to continue to work."  

On the defensive line rotation:
"We have lots of competition in the defensive line, where we have players returning but have also lost some very good players over the last couple years up front. Jesse (Williams) has made a contribution up there. (Josh) Chapman is a very good nose guard, Quinton Dial, (Damion) Square, we might even end up playing a freshman, Jeoffrey Pagan, some if he continues to develop. We've still got competition at a lot of positions. We have depth at some positions. We've utilized different personnel packages to try get guys roles and opportunities. That's something we'll continue to work on throughout the course of the year. "

On Dont'a Hightower's injury:
"Well Dont'a, I thought as the year progressed last year played better and better, got more and more confident, probably got in better shape and conditioned as the year went on. He's certainly had a very good offseason, very good spring, and offseason program and summer. He's played extremely well this fall camp and shown really good leadership. That's very, very important to our defensive team. He and Mark Barron both have shown great leadership, and for them to continue to do that will continue to help us develop as a defensive team."

On Jerrell Harris:
"Jerrell has had a very good fall camp and a very good spring. Jerrell has a couple different roles. Sometimes those roles are a little bit conflicting for him because he plays outside `backer in regular and is the starting SAM, and then he plays nickel `backer but nickel `backer is kind of an inside `backer, and he's really the only guy that has that crosses over. Because he has a lot of experience doing both, I think he feels very comfortable doing that right now. He's done a good job, and he's also done a good job on special teams, and we'll continue to use him in that regard as well."

On offensive line combinations and managing first game differently:
"We want to create an identity for our team, play well, and win the game, but there are circumstances in all games that you play, not just this game or the first game where there may be competition and you have a plan to play other players. We do it on the defensive line in every game. We play six defensive linemen every game and rotate them in and out of the game, so this is not an unusual circumstance. We did it when we were playing Florida last year, and we did it when we were playing LSU last year. This is not about the first game, and this is not about who we're playing. This is about where our team is, and how we want to play our players to get the best players on the field."

On quarterback preparation and live hitting:
"Well you know I look out on the practice field lots of days and I say, `Well would that guy have made that decision if he was going to get splattered on that play?' There are some disadvantages to putting a black shirt on a quarterback and not allowing him to get hit. At the same time, quarterback is an important position, and do you want to risk making them live to create an issue? Because quarterback is a bit of a defenseless position too, because you aren't in a position like everyone else. You could play nose guard, but you're in position to defend yourself every play. So is the right corner, and the tight end, and every receiver, but the quarterback really isn't. To make him live, and because someone else didn't block the right guy, he's going to get blasted and have an opportunity to break a hand or a finger or something that's going to put him out. I never thought that that risk/reward was all that worth it. The down side of that is that they haven't gotten hit that much. Ball security is something you have to coach in those circumstances and situations. They're going to get hit now in the game, and I just don't really know the best way to do that because I would like for them to get hit, but I would like for them to not get hurt."

On the depth chart safety positions list Mark Barron at strong safety and Robert Lester at free safety:
"That's how they played all year last year. The one thing I would also add, when we play safeties, our safeties play right and left. Until we get to the game, and we have a real difference in who those guys are, they get to play strong safety and they get to play free safety. When you play strong safety and free safety, if they change a strength motion on offense then the free safety becomes the strong safety so then that means they don't get to practice that. Now we get to the game, and we feel like those guys play better in those roles, and that's how they played all last year, but with some of the younger guys, we still play them right and left so they get to practice both things."

On the depth chart listing Marquis Maze for kickoff returns and punt returns and no Trent Richardson:
"We'll still use Trent in that regard. We weren't going to start him there this particular game. We're using him on kickoff returns. We really think Marquis has done a really good job. He's very explosive. His judgment and decision making, feeling the ball, which is critical in all these situations, has improved. He got experience on punt returns last year, but we want to see if there are some other players that we can create roles for in that regard. That doesn't mean Trent Richardson won't end up doing it again this year."

Thoughts on SEC Expansion:
"Well you know I've made a comment on this before, and I really do feel like we have a lot of people in the SEC, Commissioner Mike Slive and his whole staff, a lot of great administrators at many institutions in the SEC that can really make much, much better decisions and have a much better opinion on this than I can as a coach, especially in game week worrying about the game. I have all the faith, trust and confidence that all the presidents and administrators will make the best possible decision for our league moving ahead. I think if you understand the dynamics of college football and what's happening then you understand that there are teams and programs that could become assets for other conferences based on the circumstance in their particular conference, and I don't necessarily see expansion as a negative thing. People have heard me talk before about the fact I was in the Big Ten when Penn State came in, and there were a lot of naysayers about all that. The fact of the matter is Penn State made the league better and opened up the Big Ten to the East, and it helped us all recruit better in the East because those kids got exposure in the East from Penn State. The east became one of the best recruiting areas for us as a far away recruiting area at Michigan State whereas before we could never get a player there. I do think there are a whole lot of folks in Texas, and there's a whole lot of good football over there. I do think there would be some assets that a team from Texas would bring to our league. That doesn't mean I'm for or against it. It means I'm for the people who are in positions to make those decisions, to make them. I'm not going to call them. I'm not going to call the president to ask what play to run on third down, so he doesn't have to worry about getting a call from me, or getting my opinion on whether we should expand or not."

"I think that we have an outstanding league, and we have an outstanding league because we have a lot of passion in this league for football. I think it's an important part of the Southeast and the culture in the Southeast. I think our league expresses that in the passion that our fans have as well as the good football players that we're able to attract to a lot of our schools and make our league very competitive, top to bottom with a lot of good teams. I think it makes it a great league. I can't really comment on what it's like for someone else to come here and play. Football is football. I think sometimes our style of play may be a little bit different than some other part of the country. That doesn't make it better or worse, I do think there are probably a little better cover people and maybe a little better pass rushers. And I think when you come and play somebody in this league you better be ready for those things."

On quarterbacks getting equal reps:
"I really think one of them has to come out there first, but I don't think that necessarily means that guy is the starter. I think both guys will play in the game and we will have a plan for both guys to play in the game. I think it's out of fairness to them that they both get an opportunity to play in this game, It's kind of what we've talked about. I don't think one guy has clearly separated himself from the other and I think that both guys will be given the chance to play in the game, but they will know exactly how they are going to play in the game and the consequences of their play will not be a factor as to whether they continue to play in whatever is programmed for them to play. In other words, I don't want any player out there looking over his shoulder thinking, `If I make one bad play, you are going to pull me out of the game.' We're going to let the guys play, and they're going to play their role. Then we'll assess where we think they are, and if there was some way one guy responded better than another that makes a difference then we'll evaluate that. That's what is going to happen. And I hate that it's going to happen, but in fairness to the players, I think both deserve an opportunity."

On how the team handles the expectations and hype:
"I do like the attitude of the team, I like the way the team has approached the season. I think that hopefully they have learned from past experiences that none of these things really matter. That all the things that are important is how we perform, how we play with consistency, the kind of effort, the kind of toughness, the kind of competitive character we have as a team. But all those things are going to be determined by what we do. The preseason stuff is all determined by what we've done in the past, which has nothing to do with what we do in the future. I'm hopeful that the players have learned that by past experience. It's just the way people think, and I don't care what game it is or what league you're playing in, you can't compete that way. And just because somebody could stand up and say, `Well you beat Penn State last year so you're going to go up there and play, it shouldn't be a problem this year'. They're a better team this year and they're tougher to play up there. So if you think like that, you're going to get beat. So if you think just because you're rated a certain way - and it's flattering, and we appreciate the fact that the program is getting recognized and all that, but it doesn't really mean anything when it comes to the outcome that you get. It's based on what you do, and what you earn, and you have to pay the price for success up front.  And you can't hope for it, you've got to do the work, put in the work, go in with the idea that you deserve it but you understand what it takes to earn it."

On what keeps him motivated year in and out:
"Terry reminded me the other day that this is going to be our 40th anniversary coming up here in December. She's reminding me already. Because we were married for a year actually before I started coaching, so that's the only way I figured out this is 39 years. I thought it was more like 31 or 32. I enjoy what I do, I really do. I really enjoy coaching the players, teaching the players. I guess it's the competitive spirit of wanting to do things well, of having the kind of pride in your performance where you let someone else get better than you or get ahead of you. I think that it's just a part of who you are. I still enjoy doing this a lot. I'm looking forward to this season, I think our players are as well. It's just exciting. I don't know what I could be doing this week that could be more exciting than this. I think next week will be the same way. Until that goes away, which I have no idea when that's going happen, but there's no signs of it yet. We enjoy doing it, we love being here. We have lots of challenges in the future, we have lots of challenges on our team right now, we have lots of challenges in the season, but those things are opportunities that are fun and we're excited about the opportunities we have with this team this year and the challenges that this season will bring."

#75 Barrett Jones, OL

On what game week means:
"I think it is great just from the standpoint of we are finally going to get to hit someone not wearing a crimson or white jersey. Everybody is really excited about that. About this time in camp every year, you get a little tired of hitting the same guys every day so we are excited to get out there and get a taste of what this Alabama team is about and establish our identity."

On how fall camp has been so far:
"It's been exciting as usual. It's been really tough but it's something that's necessary in football and something every team has to do if they want to compete for a championship."

On what he's learned in fall camp to make him better:
"I've learned a lot and I've really focused on getting tackle down. I've played a lot of guard in the past few years but I think tackle is just a different position. I've tried to focus on learning how to play it. I've learned a lot about it but I've still got a lot to learn also."

On excitement for the first game:
"I'm very excited. I think it's going to be a special time for our team and for our city. I think it will be good to get our city all back together and get things back to normal with all that has happened in the off season. It will be good to have all 102,000 of your closest friends there."

On getting to play with his brother:
"It will be neat. It's something I got to do in high school and it was really fun just to get a chance to play next to him. I hope to have the same chance here because we are so close. It will be great to have him out there on the field at the same time."

#37 Robert Lester, DB

On DeAndrew White:
"I have seen him improving over camp. It was expected that he was going to work hard and play well. That is exactly what he did."

On nerves this time last season:
"I was pretty nervous, but at the same time I had to keep my composure and go out and execute the game plan."

On the change from camp to games:
"I think the biggest change our bodies go though is during camp and getting ready for the games. Once the games get here it is not that big of a deal. We are able to finish. We are excited to get this season started. It is the first game, so this is a big time."

On the experienced defensive line:
"We always want to have a good defensive line and good linebackers to put pressure on the quarterback and slow down the running backs from having that much speed when getting to the secondary. It is great to have great guys in front of us to be able to do that."

On the quarterbacks:
"I see two great quarterbacks that can both play the game. Whoever wins the position, more power to them, but they both are working hard to get that spot.

#99 Josh Chapman, DL

On Jesse Williams:
"Jesse Williams is a great player and a strong player. He came in and learned pretty fast. I think he is going to be able to help us out. Compared from spring to now, he has improved. He is faster, quicker and even stronger."

On Dont'a Hightower's leadership:
"Dont'a is a great leader. The things he does on and off the field motivate you and make you want to do more. It is fun having him right behind me."

On Jeoffrey Pagan:
"I have been here for a long time, and for guys coming out of high school, learning our defense is pretty hard. He picked it up pretty fast and has learned fast. The guy is an athlete."

On preparing for opponents when unsure of what they will do offensively:
"It is all about going out and doing what we do best including stopping the run, stopping the pass and being a great third-down team."

On the overall talent level of the team from when he first got here to now:
"It has changed. We have a lot of guys that are bigger, faster and stronger. He (Coach Saban) is a great recruiter. We have a lot of talent."

On the feelings surrounding the first game:
"I feel like the people have been waiting for this game as much as we have. I know I have been for a long time. It feels like it took forever for it to get here, and now it is here. I know they are excited and we are excited too."