Ever notice how this is the time of year when every player on every team is stronger than he was last fall? In addition, every problem on both sides of the ball has been addressed and corrected.
At least this is what the players and coaches tell the media.
No tackle ever says, “You know, I still can’t handle a good bull rush, just like last year.” And no coach ever will be heard telling the media, “Our underclass receivers are just … well, they’re bad. We made a ton of recruiting mistakes there.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban is the master of telling the media what he wants fans to hear, not what is really happening.
With one more week of spring practice to go in Tuscaloosa, let’s analyze a few Saban quotes from the past three weeks.
What was said: Saban on improvements made by quarterback Jalen Hurts: “Decision-making, getting the ball out of his hand more quickly, not looking at the rush, not drifting in the pocket, reading and having his eyes in the right place relative to the coverage and the read that that particular play has.”
What he means: Despite being named the SEC Offensive Player of the Year as a freshman last season, Hurts enters the 2017 season with much to prove. His ability to throw the ball accurately lessened as the season progressed, and improvement in that area is the offense’s main focus this spring – for good reason. In Hurts’ final three starts of 2016, he was just 31-of-65 (47.7 percent completion rate) for 326 yards and two TDs; that’s an average of 5.02 yards per attempt. Those are numbers that surely will get him pulled in favor of true freshman Tua Tagovailoa if they show up again in 2017. This spring has been about pumping up Hurts mentally; this fall will be about playing the quarterback who gives Alabama the best shot to win. Despite what is being said publicly, the coaches still do not know which quarterback that will be.
What was said: Saban on cornerback Trevon Diggs: “Long, he has good toughness, he’s a good tackler, plays the ball well in the deep part of the field and did a good job of playing man-to-man.”
What he means: Diggs will start opposite Anthony Averett at cornerback against Florida State in the 2017 season opener in Atlanta. Diggs, a 6-foot-2, 195-pound sophomore, possesses all the tools Saban looks for in a cornerback. With safeties Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison, the Tide will have one of the best safety tandems in the nation in 2017. Coaches know Fitzpatrick and Harrison bring an experience level to the secondary that allows Diggs to develop at the position with minimal growing pains.
What was said: Saban on the right side of his offensive line: “Lester Cotton is playing right guard. He probably could play right tackle if we needed him to. (Matt) Womack is playing right tackle and he’s making progress and doing a good job.”
What he means: Cotton will be starting on the right side at either guard or tackle. He will start at left guard if Womack continues to improve or true freshman Alex Leatherwood emerges at right tackle, as many expect he will. If Saban does not feel comfortable opening the season with Leatherwood or Womack at right tackle, a likely option is redshirt freshmen Chris Owens or Deonte Brown at right guard, with Cotton starting at right tackle.
What was said: Saban on the running backs last season: “As soon as a guy started to really look good, he’d get beat up a little bit. The next guy would come in and that guy would start to look good and he’d get beat up a little bit.”
What he means: Alabama’s deepest position on the roster is running back and all of them will play in 2017. This includes true freshmen Najee Harris and Brian Robinson. Saban hopes that all six running backs stay in Tuscaloosa in contribute in 2017. Bo Scarbrough, Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs return, and it would not surprise me to see B.J. Emmons – who played sparingly last season as a true freshman – transfer and redshirt this fall at his new school.
(You can follow Chris Reier on Twitter @seeryer)
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