Alabama held its annual Media Day on Saturday, featuring press conferences with head coach Nick Saban, offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Pete Golding, 15 minutes of player availability and a two-hour open practice.
Saban kicked off the festivities at 9:45 a.m. The first question was about the injuries to outside linebackers Chris Allen and Terrell Lewis. Saban seemed unconcerned about either one, saying that Lewis made a lot of plays in practice yesterday and that the team had “big plans” for Allen before his knee injury last summer. He said the team has three outside linebackers who can be “very productive players,” referring to Lewis, Allen and senior Anfernee Jennings.
Since last season there has been speculation that Alabama would use more four-receiver sets this year due to the emergence of Jaylen Waddle and the perceived lack of depth at the tight end position. Asked point-blank if the team would use four receivers more often, Saban said “I think you’re always trying to get the best players that you have on the field in the most productive positions you can get them in.” That would seem to indicate that the answer is yes, but Saban also explained that keeping a tight end on the field gives the offense more options. Sarkisian later said he has no qualms about putting all four receivers on the field when it could be an advantage. A slight uptick in “Red” personnel (four receivers, one running back) seems plausible, but any large shift in offensive identity seems unlikely.
Saban kept his comments on departed linebacker Eyabi Anoma brief. He confirmed that Anoma was dismissed from the university and said he could not say anything else on the subject.
Senior defensive back Shyheim Carter was the team’s starting Star (slot cornerback) last year and also showed he could be a competent safety. Saban said Carter is one of the two or three smartest players on the team and could be a great coach someday. Carter played safety alongside Xavier McKinney with the first-team defense during practice.
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa said during the spring that Sarkisian had been implementing more full-field reads into the offense. On Saturday Sarkisian said “our feeling is the more things you do well, the harder you are to defend,” and added that Tagovailoa has shown “drastic improvement.” He again clarified that the offense isn’t changing to a dropback style of offense; it’s merely expanding to include a new element.
Fans expecting junior running back Najee Harris to be a traditional bell-cow type of running back would not appreciate Sarkisian’s comments on the RB group. He did speak as if Harris is the centerpiece of the running game, but named the team’s other four scholarship running backs as complements to him. It seems as if the carries will be allocated with late-season games in mind, as Sarkisian said he wants to ensure Harris is fresh and able to improve as the season goes on. “There may be games in which he is that total bell-cow and we have to go the way we need to go to do what we need to do to win the game,” Sarkisian said. “There may be other games in which it’s not as many. Maybe we do find ways to get him the ball in the passing game and different things.”
After Saban’s concerns about the defensive line depth during the spring, Golding seemed more satisfied on Saturday. The team has since added three freshman D-linemen to the three who enrolled in the spring. Half of the team’s scholarship D-linemen are currently freshmen. Golding said the team will use as many players in the rotation as can contribute to playing winning football.
Golding’s comments on sophomore corner Josh Jobe continue to point to him being a full-time starter. The DC said Jobe has every physical attribute coaches look for in a corner, and his knowledge of the scheme has caught up to that. He played exclusively with the first-team defense during practice.
Sophomore offensive linemen Emil Ekiyor Jr. worked at first-team left guard, second-team center and third-team center during practice. If Alabama played Duke tomorrow, he would likely be the starting left guard.
Freshman defensive lineman Justin Eboigbe continued to work with the first team in the absence of LaBryan Ray. Saban said Ray should be back in about a week.
With junior tight end Miller Forristall out with a foot injury, Giles Amos and Major Tennison were the tight ends working with the first team. Amos was usually in the backfield and Tennison usually aligned on the line. Saban said he expects Forristall back within a few days.
After playing on the second team during the spring, freshman linebacker Shane Lee was with the third team on Saturday. The inside linebackers on the second team were Ale Kaho, Jaylen Moody and Markail Benton.
Freshmen Brandon Turnage, Evan Neal and Antonio Alfano were the only freshmen on the second team. Neal was at left guard. Alfano would likely be on the third team if not for Eboigbe moving up to fill Ray’s spot.
Six players got reps as a punt returner: Waddle, Diggs, Carter, Jerry Jeudy, Slade Bolden and Xavier Williams.
The team has Sunday off before beginning its first full week of fall camp on Monday at 2:30 p.m. CT.