Alabama coach Nick Saban held his weekly radio show Thursday night ahead of Saturday’s game against Texas A&M.
Here were the highlights:
— Saban commented on offensive lineman Landon Dickerson being a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell, awarded to the college football player who “possesses the best combination of academics, community service and on-field performance.” Saban said the Campbell Award is “in my mind, one of the prestigious awards that anyone can be honored with.” Barrett Jones won the trophy for Alabama in 2012.
— Asked about Alabama’s next four games coming against Saban’s former assistants, beginning Saturday with Jimbo Fisher, Saban said it makes him proud and added all are doing “fantastic jobs” at their new spots. “Jimbo’s had a lot of success, Lane [Kiffin]’s had a lot of success. Kirby [Smart]’s built one of the strongest programs in the country, I think. Jeremy Pruitt’s got Tennessee turned around,” Saban said.
— Alabama committed seven penalties for 49 yards in the opener, including three false starts on the offensive line and a delay of game against backup quarterback Bryce Young. Saban relayed that his players “were complaining the Missouri defensive linemen were barking out movements and things like that which was their excuse, at least, for some of the things that happened.” As for Young, Saban attributed his penalty to anxiety in his debut and “trying to do everything perfect.” Saban spoke in more detail about Young’s drive, saying it was a good teaching moment after having the ball at the Missouri’s 23-yard line, taking the delay of game, then having a sack-fumble in which Young did not have “two hands on the ball in the pocket.”
— Saban said his team was “pretty average” once the score became 35-3 and they need to play to a much higher standard than they did in the final quarter-and-a-half.
— Saban said penalties have been a “huge problem” the past two years for Alabama, when they’ve finished near the bottom of the SEC. “In the early years here, we were always first or second in penalties.” As for fixing it, Saban said it’s taught in practice each day and there are consequences for players. “I hate to be a punishment guy, but we just get so frustrated that people don’t play with the discipline we need to, we have to come up with ways to make them aware of how important it is.”
— Saban reiterated that offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian and his assistants “do a good job of featuring the weapons that we have” on offense but “key for us though is we need to develop depth and players behind those players who can play winning football.” Saban explained young players need to “learn how to learn” and to take “constructive instruction” after dominating their competition in high school.
— Saban said when young players got opportunities against Missouri, “we need for them to play better.”
— Saban called Missouri the most difficult opponent this season for the secondary in terms of adjusting to offensive formations and motions. “That was a very challenging game for anyone in the secondary,” he said. “I thought they handled that fairly well. We did make some mistakes that are correctable.”
— Sarkisian said this preseason he hopes to balance carries in the backfield more this season than he did last year, when Sarkisian felt he leaned too much on Najee Harris. When Saban was asked Thursday night about his conversations with Harris about that, Saban explained he does not want someone carrying the ball 35 times a game because “I want you to as good a player in the tenth game of the year as you are in the first game of the year.” He also tied in that thinking to a future in the NFL, noting players at the position professionally has a short shelf life. “The more tread you have on your tires when you leave college … the longer your pro career is going to be,” he said. Saban wants to create balance between playing enough to create value — and he noted the school’s recent run of running backs being drafted — and extending career length in the NFL.
— Aggies quarterback Kellen Mond ran 16 times for 90 yards and a touchdown last season against Alabama, and Saban said Thursday night that “people underestimate his speed and ability to run.” Saban said Mond has improved his efficiency and reading of the field as a passer.
— Asked by a caller about whether Mac Jones can win an SEC and national championship as a passer, or if Alabama needs to run the ball more, Saban said he does not want to “make any predictions about any championships or anything like that,” but later continued, “We’re not conservative. We’re not trying to protect Mac. We’ve got all the confidence in the world in him. We’re going to feature the best players we have, and two of those guys are playing receiver and we’re going to give them the ball any way that we can.” Saban felt Alabama needs to be explosive in the passing game but also have balance and be able to run the ball in certain situations. He pointed to LSU and Auburn scoring points before halftime last season and said, “if we had the ball and kept the ball, that wouldn’t have happened.”
— Asked about how the addition of Texas A&M to the SEC in 2012 has affected recruiting in Texas, Saban said Alabama has always been able to get good players from Texas but “now that they are, it’s actually helped us.” The Tide’s current group of Texas recruits includes Jaylen Waddle. “The ones that we have gotten have certainly been none that you would be disappointed in,” Saban said. He also credited the SEC’s longstanding TV deal with CBS as giving the conference national exposure before conference-specific networks emerged.
— Asked about what qualities he wants his coaching hires to have, Saban said the first two points are character and ability to communicate. After that, knowledge and experience come into play. Saban said he wants balance on his staff in styles. “You don’t want everybody to be screaming and hollering,” he said. “You want some guys to be a little more maybe technical in their approach or cerebral in their approach.” He also noted an ability to “get along with other people on the staff” is important. “In our case, I want people who are going to buy into doing things the way we want to do them,” Saban said. “We don’t necessarily hire people to come in an reinvent the wheel and tell us how they want to do stuff.”
— Saban said defensive lineman Christian Barmore, who missed the opener because of a knee injury, has “done well this week.” After more of “rehabilitation-type practice” last week, Barmore and Saban both agreed he would not be fully ready to play against Missouri. “This week he’s been really practicing 100 percent, so hopefully he’ll be able to play this week,” Saban added.
— Saban said direction and hang time are both important components for punts. He praised former punter J.K. Scott for both of those qualities in addition to his leg strength. “Last year we struggled a little bit because we punted a lot of line drives, had low hang time, didn’t have the correct placement of the ball and we gave up more returns last year than we typically do,” Saban said.
— As for handling COVID-19 protocols while traveling to Missouri, Saban said he was a little concerned about what it would be like in the plane and hotel, “but we haven’t had a whole lot of repercussions from a negative standpoint because our players have done a good job with all of the protocols.”
— Saban said he hopes fans in attendance Saturday will be “very enthusiastic.”
— Saban finished by saying his team is trying to work on the identity of being dominant and understand “not what it takes just to win games, but to beat other people.”
Mike Rodak is an Alabama beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @mikerodak.