Hannah Saad | @hannah_saad21
With the Alabama football team’s preseason practices and scrimmages fully completed, fans and players alike are excited for the Crimson Tide to take the field Saturday. But as fans look forward to the season and hope for a return to the National Championship, one thing is clear: we shouldn’t expect last year’s team to take the field in Missouri.
For everyone that knows Alabama football, the results from last season were subpar in comparison to years past under coach Nick Saban. From injuries afflicting key players like linebacker Dylan Moses and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to crucial regular season losses to LSU and Auburn, the 2019 Crimson Tide suffered several setbacks that ultimately ended their chances of reentering the College Football National Championship. In a press conference after the first day in pads, Head Coach Nick Saban discussed how he felt about last year’s team.
Getting back to basics
“I do not think that last year’s team reflected the culture of what we’re trying to develop here, what has made this program be as successful over time [as] it has been,” Saban said.
Saban also said that this season, the coaches are trying to emphasize the revitalization of that culture that previous football teams at the Capstone have cultivated. Players are being asked to buy into a culture that focuses on playing with discipline and developing the intangibles.
“It’s our standard,” Saban said at a press conference after Alabama’s second scrimmage. “I think everybody’s gotta buy into that. They’ve got to buy into the team, the team having success and winning is very, very important and that should be what everybody buys into.”
In an offseason with so much uncertainty as far as the players available to a team, having continuity among the positions becomes even more important. Alabama is fortunate to have four of the five starters on the offensive line return this season. In a press conference after practice this preseason, senior running back Brian Robinson Jr. talked about how beneficial it is to have an experienced offensive line.
“I also feel like it’s very beneficial that we have four returning starters because, you know, it’s not much we can teach them at this point,’’ Robinson said.
Robinson feels comfortable behind the offensive line due to their ability to communicate what they see to the rest of the offense, he said. With the talent and experience Alabama has on the offensive front, the attention turns to the run game. Should Alabama focus less on the run-pass option and play-action and focus more on running the ball? In a press conference after practice, Offensive Coordinator Steve Sarkisian gave his thoughts.
“You know, we’re always striving for balance,” Sarkisian said. “I think our ability to run the football got better in the second half of last season. It’s something we want to build upon as we head into this year.”
Sarkisian also mentioned that the talent Alabama has on the offensive line and in the running corps could assist the passing game. Fans of running the football should keep an eye out to see how Sarkisian adds more run-only plays into his RPO-heavy offense.
On the defensive side of the football, Alabama experienced some adversity last season. With the early season loss of linebacker Dylan Moses, the linebacker position was especially vulnerable. Players like sophomore Christian Harris were expected to step up and lead the linebackers without their star player. In a press conference after fall practice, Harris discussed how helpful Moses was to his development in his first season.
“Coming here to the University of Alabama with Dylan was a big help for me,” Harris said. “He’s really like a big brother to me, you know, he’s always helping me out even though he got hurt. He was always on the sidelines, giving me tips.”
Harris also said that it was important to have Moses return to the team this season, citing that his presence gives everyone confidence as well. Pete Golding, Alabama defensive coordinator, said in a press conference that since Dylan has returned, he has been helping the freshman learn the system by testing them. With Moses back in action, the linebacker group is ready to show their improvement from last season.
With the play from the defense from last season, Alabama received a lot of criticism. In a press conference after practice, Golding addressed how the defense has responded to the critiques.
“Bottom line, it’s on me. It’s not on anybody else,” Golding said. “I’m the defensive coordinator. I’m responsible for the defense. So I’ve got to do a better job of getting them prepared, getting those guys knowing what to do and playing fast.”
Golding noted that the defense has been going through tape from last season, picking out the mistakes and developing solutions to them.
Shaking things up
Adding energetic coaches to the coaching staff can renew the passion of the players. During the offseason, Alabama added defensive line coach Freddie Roach. Golding discussed how Roach’s presence has helped the team.
“With Freddie [Roach], what an unbelievable player he was here, but what an unbelievable person,” Golding said. “I think the energy he brings to that room, being a little younger, I think the kids relate to him more.”
Golding highlighted Roach’s ability to break down the scheme of the defense into terms players can understand, which could prove vital when the season starts. Most of the defensive shortcomings last season came from not playing fundamental football, so having a coach that can effectively relate the mechanics of the defense to the players will add to the success of the team.
Off the field, the offseason has presented the team with some unique challenges. Players have had to navigate practicing in a global pandemic and the social unrest that is occurring in the United States. After the 14th preseason practice, Saban talked about how the team has handled COVID-19 on campus.
“Now they have to be out and we take good care of them and we’re doing everything we can,” Saban said.
Players have been tested three times a week and Saban said that the team has been staying away from situations where they can get the virus.
Alabama understands how much the fans love watching the football team play is in the fall.
“I don’t think we have 101,000 people coming to the games if it wasn’t important to them,” Saban said after the first day of practice in pads.
With the recent outcry for racial and social injustice, the team has rallied together to speak out against these injustices. Offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood discusses the team’s decision to speak out.
“It was a great opportunity to just be a voice for my people from a platform and a standpoint where people would listen,” Leatherwood said.
Leatherwood said that the values in the video released by the team have not changed. Tight end Miller Forristall stated in a press conference earlier in the preseason that he is proud of how his teammates have come together to speak out about social injustice. This team has taken the steps to be unified on issues that are currently affecting the world.
How does all of this help Alabama return to playing winning football? This is a united team. Every player on the Alabama football team is pushing one another to be a great player on the field and a good person off of the field.
This team is unpleased with how last season panned out. Every player wants to return to the playoffs and get back to the winning culture previous Alabama teams have created. Fans should be very excited for this upcoming season.