Saban: Offense will have to help defense

Coach entering 11th year with Tide

By W. BRIAN HALE, Eagle Sports Writer
Posted 7/12/17

HOOVER — Making his 11th appearance as the head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide at SEC Media Days, Nick Saban has witnessed every aspect of his football program grow.

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Saban: Offense will have to help defense

Coach entering 11th year with Tide

Posted

HOOVER — Making his 11th appearance as the head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide at SEC Media Days, Nick Saban has witnessed every aspect of his football program grow.

Beyond the four national championships and five SEC titles since his hiring in 2007, Saban has enjoyed developing players into NFL talent, watching APR and graduation rates rise and helping members of the program get a solid start into their professional lives.

While Saban has proved successful in his endeavours at Alabama, this year’s edition of the Crimson Tide will come with obstacles of its own.

Seven players were drafted to the NFL — all going within the first two rounds — leaving voids in critical positions that Saban and his coaching staff will have to replace quickly.

“Our guys are currently working very hard, working out, doing a great job of individually staying organized and how they can develop, whether it’s in 7-on-7 and the type of drills that coaches aren’t allowed to be involved with that I think has really helped the development of our young players, which I think this is going to be one of the youngest teams that we’ve had probably since maybe 2012, especially on defense, where we lost a ton of really, really good players,” Saban said. “We’re going to be very young on that side of the ball, but it’s also something that we’re excited about as coaches to try to help those guys develop to play the kind of football that will allow them to be individually and collectively successful defensively.”

Although the Crimson Tide will work to fill the holes on defense, there are leaders expected to step-up and guide younger and inexperienced players into starting roles. The Tide has at least one starter returning at every level of the defense, including four in the secondary, linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton and defensive lineman Da’Ron Payne. The Tide secondary could be one of the anchors of the defense in 2017 both in terms of depth and talent.

Leading the way is returning starting strong safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, a first team All-American in 2016, starting free safety Ronnie Harrison, starting cornerback Anthony Averett and starting star back Tony Brown.

Offensively, the news is much better for Alabama. Along with quarterback Jalen Hurts — the SEC Offensive Player of the Year in 2016 — returning, the Crimson Tide can rely on a strong offensive front, as well as quality receivers and veteran running backs.

“Offensively, this is the first time that we’ve had a returning starter at quarterback since 2013, which creates the opportunity for that guy to develop in the things that he needs to do better, which Jalen has done a good job in the offseason of becoming a better passer, understanding the passing game better, and we have some good running backs, and we have some good receivers and skill guys, and the offensive line has developed nicely,” Saban said.

“So it’s going to be a challenge for us offensively to be able to have the kind of team that we need to have to help our defense, especially early on. But I think it’s important that our team develop an identity, which is always a challenge from a coaching standpoint, that all the players buy into, take ownership for, and area accountable to, doing the things that we need to do to establish the identity that we want to establish of being a team that’s difficult to play against because of our ability to execute, play with mental and physical toughness, be able to finish, which we weren’t able to do last year in the championship game.”

At wide receiver, Calvin Ridley and Damien Harris should figure prominently into the offense, along with running backs Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough. Alabama’s experienced front will start with offensive linemen Bradley Bozeman, Ross Pierschbacher and Jonah Williams returning.

On special teams, punter J.K. Scott — touted by Saban as “one of the best punters in the country”, returns, but the Crimson Tide will have to develop a new placekicker.

Alabama’s tough 2017 schedule includes nine teams that went to bowls — led by the formidable season opener against ACC powerhouse Florida State, on Sept. 2 in Atlanta.

“Florida State has been one of the biggest challenges in the ACC and probably have as many good players returning as anybody in college football,” Saban said.

“Florida State is built like an SEC team, you know, like our teams. You think of FSU, you think of fast, explosive players which they have a lot of, but they are also a big, physical, play great defense, tough, you know, team. And I think it’s probably (FSU head coach) Jimbo Fisher’s experience in this league that sort of why he built his team that way. And that’s certainly the kind of team that they have this year.”