Alabama begins preparation for Virginia Tech

Kickoff for Alabama’s season opener against Virginia Tech is four days away, and the buzz surrounding the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta has reached deafening levels.

Nick Saban said the Crimson Tide is not overlooking the Hokies and their reputation as being an annual contender.

“We’re playing a very good team. They’re a team that has very good tradition, a lot of 10-win seasons,” Saban said. “They’ve got a great coach who is the No. 1 winning active coach in college football. They’re the team that always plays really hard, lots of toughness, lots of effort. They’re really sort of old fashioned when it comes to the principles and values and character that they play with.”

Saban praised Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer for his consistency in the game and compassion toward his colleagues. Saban said Beamer was the first person to send donations after the April 27, 2011 tornado.

But most people recognize Beamer for his emphasis on special teams, and Saban is well aware of it.

“They’ve blocked a lot of punts in their history,” Saban said. “They have a good return game; they had a good return game last year. It’s just something that they emphasize and work on, and their players take a lot of pride in it.”

However, Alabama’s main focus for Saturday’s season opener is to shut down Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas.

Junior safety HaHa Clinton-Dix said he’s never been faced with the task of tackling a 6-foot-6-inch, 254-pound quarterback.

“He’s a great quarterback, big, physical,” Clinton-Dix said. “He can tuck the ball and run, so we’ve got to be ready for that.

“Just keep him in the pocket. He can obviously get out of the pocket and run, and he’s going to be tough to tackle because that’s a big dude.”

Alabama’s quarterback, AJ McCarron, was a redshirt freshman the last time the Crimson Tide opened the season against the Hokies.

McCarron said he was never nervous during that game because he knew he wasn’t going to step on the field.

“I was just taking everything in and just kind of looking around,” McCarron said. “I remember it being packed and loud. Virginia Tech is a great school, a lot of history, a lot of tradition in their program. They’ve got great fans, just like our fans here at [Alabama]. I believe they’re going to travel a bunch, and they’re going to be pumped up. It’s going to be a great atmosphere for our game.”

Kenyan Drake absent from depth chart

Saban, much to his dismay, released a depth chart on Monday, and sophomore running back Kenyan Drake was not on the list.

Drake saw the field primarily in the second halves of games and rushed the ball 42 times in 2012 for 281 yards and five touchdowns.

T.J. Yeldon is slated as the starter, with Jalston Fowler, Dee Hart and freshmen Derrick Henry and Altee Tenpenny behind him.

“I think that there’s probably two of the freshmen that have sort of – I think they’re all good,” Saban said. “Kamara had an injury, so he missed a while. He’ll be back practicing today, but it’s hard to get him ready to play this game right now. Tyren Jones did a good job in the last scrimmage, but really Altee and Derrick Henry have gotten the most reps and are probably the most prepared to be able to play right now.”