Daily Archives: October 24, 2012

The British come to Alabama and talk to Saban

Sky Sports UK is kind of like ESPN for Great Britain, advertising themselves as “UK’s leading sports channel.”

Tuesday, Sky Sports branched out and sent a camera crew to Tuscaloosa to film a story about an American football homecoming game. Alabama is hosting Mississippi State for homecoming Saturday.

So, of course, they decided to speak to that well-known expert on American homecoming: Alabama football coach Nick Saban.

The Sky Sports reporter asked Saban two questions at this evening’s news conference. For the record, if any of us beat writers asked these questions, we would get the famous Saban “death glare” and an eruption would follow. But for the sake of international relations, Saban was gentle in his responses.

Sky Sports guy: “I’m from the U.K. How important is the game on homecoming weekend to the university and town?”

Saban: “Well, I think that homecoming is a very traditional concept that gives everyone an opportunity to come back and sort of have the opportunity to remember some of the great times that they had here, to sort of reincarnate their sort of passion and tradition for the university. The memories that they have. The good times that they had. The pride that they have in the institution.

“And it’s an opportunity to come back and sort of re-acquaint yourself with a lot of people and some of those feelings. We have a tremendous amount of respect for that and everyone’s opportunity to do that. We also realize that it’s only going to be a happy homecoming if we have success on the field. So, it’s still always coming back to that. So our focus is always on what do we need to do to get our team to play the best. We’re working hard at trying to do that so we can get them ready to go against a very good team.”

Sky Sports guy: “How good is this Crimson Tide side?”

Saban: “Our team? … Well, I don’t really like to compare them to anything. I think that there’s still a lot of football left to play. I think the full body of work that you do determines sort of what your legacy is as a team. We have some really tough games coming up starting this weekend. If we can get through that gauntlet, then I think this team will have proven one way or the other what their legacy should be as a team.

“They’ve put themselves in a position to … The race may be 200 meters. We’re probably at about the 140. It’d be nice if it was only a 140-meter race, but it’s not. So we’ve got everybody running on our heels, so you’ve got to finish and you’ve got to finish the right way and finish strong. And you’ve got to have the mental toughness and conviction, perseverance, resiliency, to continue to do things at a high standard to be able to accomplish those things against very good teams.”

We’re uncertain how much of that Sky Sports viewers will understand, but give Saban credit for using metric distances instead of yards.

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Thoughts on Wednesday’s practice

Inside linebackers at work under the direction of defensive coordinator Kirby Smart.

Alabama inside linebackers going through a drill.

After Saturday’s game at Tennessee, Vols fans complained their team couldn’t convert on third-and-five and similar plays.

One look at Alabama’s practice should tell them why — the Crimson Tide spends a decent amount of time working its linebackers and defensive backs in those scenarios. Alabama appeared to have its third-and-four and third-and-five packages down fairly well today. During the media viewing period, we didn’t hear Tide head coach Nick Saban once yell, “What are you doing?”

We also watched the inside linebackers, partly because they do some contact drills Wendesdays. Freshman Tyler Hayes continues to look good, which is why he is receiving some playing time. C.J. Mosley, Nico Johnson and Trey DePriest still are the standard bearers.

We enjoy watching Tide defensive coordinator Kirby Smart work with the linebackers. If you’re not fast, you’re in trouble, because he keeps his group moving quickly from drill to drill.

We saw a couple of NFL people at practice, including Buffalo Bills general manager Buddy Nix, who visited with Alabama athletics director Mal Moore. Nix has strong Alabama roots. He was born in Carbon Hill and coached at Eufaula High. He coached Chattanooga’s football team in 1984-92 before moving into NFL management. A Bengals scout also attended practice.

Brett Hudson shot video of practice, which you can see below. The best part is when he filmed the linebackers and nearly got nailed by a stray football:

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True freshmen making a splash for Tide

Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon leans for yardage as Tennessee defensive back Byron Moore holds on. (AP photo by Wade Payne)

This is my story for today’s print editions:

TUSCALOOSA — After bringing five straight top-five recruiting classes to campus, it seems Alabama’s talent should have backed up enough that it’s impossible for a freshman to play for the Tide.

That’s not proving true, however, as undefeated and No. 1-ranked Alabama has newcomers making a big splash at selected positions.

“Coach (Nick) Saban always wants the best players to be on the field,” said sophomore Vinnie Sunseri, who carved himself a good bit of playing time as a first-year player last season.

True freshman wide receiver Amari Cooper leads the team in receptions and receiving yards and touchdowns. Running back T.J. Yeldon is only 5 yards behind junior Eddie Lacy for the team rushing lead. Another freshman, Kenyan Drake, ranks third in rushing.

Cyrus Jones is returning punts and kickoffs. Linebackers Denzel Devall and Tyler Hayes have found plenty of playing time on special teams and occasionally as part of the defense.

Five other true freshmen have played regularly at times this season: safety Landon Collins, cornerback Geno Smith, noseguard Darren Lake, and linebackers Dillon Lee and Reggie Ragland.

“First of all, the guys who have contributed when they’re freshmen are guys who have showed the maturity to be able to develop, stay with it, so that they can stay focused on becoming a complete player at their position, rather than getting frustrated by not having success,” Saban said. “That’s probably one key ingredient in each one of those guys. Secondly, it speaks that we’ve been able to recruit some guys who are good enough players at certain positions to be able to contribute.”

Saban said it sometimes depends on the position a certain player is playing, too.

For example, look at the first and second teams on the offensive line. Alabama lists no true freshmen. The only redshirt freshman listed is backup center Ryan Kelly.

Alabama’s three marquee offensive linemen played little as first-year players. Guard Chance Warmack appeared in only five games. Center Barrett Jones played in three games before a shoulder injury ended his season. He was allowed to take a medical redshirt and retain his year of eligibility. Tackle D.J. Fluker redshirted his first year.

“I think it’s a little easier to contribute at some positions, like wide receiver or running back, maybe even cornerback,” Saban said. “If you’re an offensive lineman, you’ve got to know who to block on every play, every pass protection, and every mistake you make, somebody’s going to get blown up.”

It’s not that way at some other positions.

“At running back, if you can carry the ball effectively and learn the five or six running plays you’ve got, you can do that and contribute in the game,” Saban said. “You can be a very good receiver and be effective in running certain pass routes and be effective at doing that. You don’t have to be complete to be able to contribute at some of those positions.”

However, Saban said Yeldon and Cooper aren’t incomplete players. Both enrolled at Alabama in January, went through spring practice and had received a good bit of instruction by the time the season began.

“The two guys we have that are contributing offensively for us the most have become pretty complete players for us pretty quickly,” he said. “That speaks to their maturity, preparation, how they practice, what they do every day.”

On defense, senior linebacker Nico Johnson said the reason the Tide has so many freshmen contributing on his side of the ball is their attitude.

“This is probably the first year that the freshmen really listen,” he said. “There’s no talking back. There’s no rolling eyes or something like that. They listen. When you’re trying to coach them up or teach them up, they’re listening.

“That’s why we’re able to be in the spot we’re in now. Our younger guys are able to step in and wreak havoc or make plays, because they listen to what we say as a leader or the leaders on the team.”

Click here for a list of the true freshmen who have played this season and how they’ve done.

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Saban on incomplete 2013 schedule: ‘We’re working on it’

Alabama coach Nick Saban needs one more non-conference game for 2013. (AP photo by Wade Payne)

Alabama needs one more game to finish its 2013 football schedule, and Tide coach Nick Saban said, “We’re working on it.”

Possible dates are Sept. 7 between a game at Atlanta with Virginia Tech and a trip to Texas A&M, and Nov. 2 between home games with Tennessee and LSU.

The Southeastern Conference didn’t release the league schedule until Oct. 18, which hampered Alabama’s efforts to nail down possible dates with non-conference teams.

“With the new additions in the league, it’s made it more difficult for us to get games in advance because we don’t know when we’re playing SEC games,” he said today on the SEC coaches’ teleconference. “That’s just the growing pain that you have to go through when you expand.”

With Missouri and Texas A&M entering the league this year, the 2013 SEC slate is considered a bridge schedule by the conference and not based on any other previous or future scheduling formats. The SEC athletics directors will meet in the spring to discuss schedules for 2014 and beyond.

Alabama’s 2013 schedule
Aug. 31, Virginia Tech (Atlanta)
Sept. 14, Texas A&M (away)
Sept. 28, Ole Miss (home)
Oct. 5, Georgia State (home)
Oct. 12, Kentucky (away)
Oct. 19, Arkansas (home)
Oct. 26, Tennessee (home)
Nov. 9, LSU (home)
Nov. 16, Mississippi State (away)
Nov. 23, Chattanooga (home)
Nov. 30, Auburn (away)

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Tide’s Barrett Jones receives another academic honor

Alabama center Barrett Jones was the 2011 SEC scholar-athlete of the year.

Alabama center Barrett Jones has received another award for athletics and academics. The guy has received so many, he’s going to need a U-haul to take them all home to Germantown, Tenn.

This time, the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame has named Jones one of 15 NFF National Scholar-Athletes. The 15 honorees also are finalists for the Campbell Trophy, which recognizes an individual as the best scholar-athlete in the nation.

Each of the 15 finalists will be awarded an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship. The group will be recognized at the NFF Annual Awards Dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City on Dec. 4, where the Campbell Trophy winner will be announced.

“This is a great honor and I appreciate all the National Football Foundation does to promote the game of college football,” Jones said in a news release. “We have had some great people recognized with this award at Alabama and it is a privilege just to be mentioned with guys like DeMeco Ryans and Greg McElroy.

“There are many people who have helped me with my athletic and academic career who deserve to be thanked, starting with my parents, Coach (Nick) Saban, the assistant coaches, and the support staff we have here. I appreciate all our academic support team has done and all of the guidance I’ve received from our professors at Alabama. You have a great opportunity to become the best person, student and football player you can because of that support. I’ve been blessed and I’m honored to represent our University.”

Jones is the only three-time Academic All-American in the history of Alabama football. He was the 2011 SEC scholar-athlete of the year. He carries a 4.0 GPA and already has received his degree in accounting. Jones is scheduled to complete his masters in accounting in December.

Alabama’s NFF scholar-athlete award winners
1971: Johnny Musso
1974: Randy Hall
1979: Steadman Shealy
2005: DeMeco Ryans
2010: Greg McElroy

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Dallas Cowboys sign former Tide safety

The Dallas Cowboys signed former Alabama safety Charlie Peprah today.

The Green Bay Packers released Peprah in July, even though he had put together his best year in pro football in 2011. The team had concerns about a lingering knee injury, which required off-season arthroscopic surgery.

“He’s a smart football player and a good athlete and has good awareness,” Dallas coach Jason Garrett told the Star-Telegram. “He’s done a really nice job for Green Bay as a safety, coming in and really helping them absorb some injuries in the past and being a starter. … But that knee thing has been a factor for him in the past. We worked him out a few weeks ago. He seems good. We got a pretty good clearance from our medical staff on him. So we’re excited to bring him in as well.”

Peprah started 14 of 16 games last year in Green Bay and ranked eighth in the NFL with five interceptions. He gained 147 yards in interception returns and ran back one for a touchdown. He also had a career-high 74 tackles.

Peprah has played six years in the NFL, including five with Green Bay. He was a fifth-round draft selection by the New York Giants in 2006. He played at Alabama during 2002-05 and had nine career interceptions.

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Saban: Tackling drills don’t need actual tackling

Alabama offers an example of how to tackle during the Tide’s 42-10 win at Missouri. (AP photo by L.G. Patterson)

Tennessee shows how not to tackle against Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon. (AP photo by Wade Payne)

Part of why Alabama ranks first nationally in most defensive categories is tackling. The Tide rarely misses tackles, and Bama coach Nick Saban said he hopes tackling drills in practice are part of the reason for that.

However, Alabama actually almost never tackles in practice. Saban said that’s the most common way players get hurt.

“We don’t really tackle in practice because we don’t want to take someone to the ground,” Saban said.

But Alabama does have drills for tackling, and Saban said this is how he wants it: Thud, wrap up, but don’t take somebody to the ground.

Here’s a video showing what he wants. These are linebackers going through a tackling drill:

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More on Jesse Williams: Not interested in awards as he is winning

Jesse Williams would rather win games than win awards.

Alabama senior noseguard Jesse Williams is getting some national attention, including mentions for awards, NFL draft watch lists and All-America teams.

For example, he was named Tuesday as a quarterfinalist for the Lott IMPACT Trophy. The award is named for former Southern California and San Francisco 49ers defensive back Ronnie Lott.

But none of these awards and honors mean much to Williams. It might help that he hasn’t heard of Lott or most of these awards.

“I know all the awards and trophies, but I have no clue who all the players are, so it kind of helps,” the 6-foot-4 Australian said. “Obviously, I know about All-America and stuff like that. That would be awesome, and it’s great to have. But right now, winning is at the top of the mantle for me and the other players that talk surrounds.

“I think if we just keep what we’re doing to help the team, those things will fall into place for us in the future.”

Williams has recorded 10 tackles with two quarterback hurries and a blocked field goal this season.

The IMPACT award recognizes college football’s defensive player of the year who best exemplifies Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity.

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Basic details for Saturday’s Alabama-Mississippi State game

Big Al makes 4-year-old Emmaline Conn happy at a 2011 home game. Her aunt, Angie Green, says Emmaline was stalking Big Al with binoculars belonging to her grandfather, Billy Jack Green. Emmaline asked to be taken down by the fence, and while there, she got to meet Big Al, hugging his trunk instead of him. Her parents are Vic and LeAnne Conn of Douglasville, Ga. (Photo submitted by Angie Green)

Who: No. 13 Mississippi State (7-0, 3-0 SEC) at No. 1 Alabama (7-0, 4-0)

When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

Television: ESPN. Brad Nessler and Todd Blackledge will call the game from the booth, while Holly Rowe will serve as sideline reporter.

Chandler Edwards, 21 months old, in his Trent Richardson jersey. Chandler and his parents, Daniel and Stacie Edwards, live in Huntsville. (Photo submitted by Daniel Edwards, no relation to the blog editor)

Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.

The series: Alabama leads 74-18-3. The last time these two teams were unbeaten coming into their annual meeting was 1942. Both teams were 1-0, and Alabama won 21-6.

Homecoming: This is homecoming, and the parade starts at 2 p.m. The grand marshals will be national championship coaches Sarah Patterson (gymnastics), Mic Potter (women’s golf) and Patrick Murphy (softball). The pep rally and bonfire will be Friday at 7 p.m. on the university’s quad.

Tide vs. the Bulldogs when ranked No. 1: Today will mark the fourth time Mississippi State has faced an Alabama team ranked No. 1. The Tide won 24-7 in 1979 and 32-7 in 2008. The Bulldogs won 6-3 in 1980.

Alabama single-game records vs. MSU: Passing yards, 325, Jay Barker (1994); rushing yards, 284, Bobby Humphrey (1986); rushing touchdowns, four, David Casteal (1988); receiving yards, 171, David Palmer (1993).

Bama defense: The Tide leads the nation in total defense, scoring defense and run defense. Alabama is No. 2 behind Arizona State in pass defense. Last year, the Tide became the first team since Oklahoma in 1986 to lead all four categories at the end of the season.

Most wins since start of 2008 season: Alabama has won 55 games in that stretch, which is second to Boise State (56) for the most in the FBS. Texas Christian is second with 52, followed by Oregon (51) and LSU (48).

Perfect kickers: Alabama’s Jeremy Shelley hasn’t missed in 43 kicks this year, including 35 extra points and eight field goals. He appeared to miss an extra point against Tennessee, but the scorekeeper ruled it was a team miss because the fault wasn’t with Shelley. Only one other kicker hasn’t missed this year: Navy’s Nick Sloan (17-17 EXP, 7-7 FG).

Next for Alabama: The Crimson Tide play at LSU on Nov. 3. CBS will carry the game at 7 p.m.

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Homecoming video from 1966

This video is from the Bryant Museum, and it’s worth watching. It was shot Nov. 12, 1966, when Alabama beat South Carolina 24-0 to improve to 8-0.

You’ll see a good bit of Bear Bryant … before he wore a houndstooth hat. You also will see actor Jim Nabors, a university graduate who at the time was starring in the popular television show, “Gomer Pyle: USMC.”

Early in the video, you’ll see a much different looking Big Al than Alabama has today. The one from 1966 looks a little like it was put together by a middle school art class.

Maybe the most interesting part of the video is some shots taken from a plane that flew over what was known as Denny Stadium at the time. It wasn’t renamed Bryant-Denny Stadium until 1975. There was no upper deck in 1966, although seating was added to the end zone that year, increasing capacity from 43,000 to 59,000.

Those shots from the plane also give you a nice view of the area around the stadium. That looks a little different from how it is now, too.