Shane: Spring Break—Saban style

By Shane from Centerpoint
Alabama head football coach Nick Saban might’ve just started his Spring training session, but he already has a keen insight into how certain players have adapted to his system because he closely monitors his famed “fourth-quarter” program – a conditioning technique Nick uses to weed-out the best from the rest. It goes without saying, if a player can withstand Saban’s ultimate physical conditioning test, his chances of seeing significant playing time are greatly enhanced. Couple that with the tremendous amount of talent that Saban has amassed very quickly and the competition for every position should be fierce. Spring practice will be “make or break” time for many, with a large number of highly touted players fighting for the twenty-two starting positions.

Saban finally has the luxury of quality depth, with two and three SEC caliber players battling for almost every spot on the field. When this year’s #1 class arrives in the Fall, the push for playing time will peak again. As a result the Tide coaches will be able to create an atmosphere where there is major competition to backup the starters.

However, this Spring practice is mostly about seasoned veterans, who’ve waited for their opportunity to establish themselves as team leaders, and this is the time when experience and knowledge will pay off for those who put 100% of their effort into learning Saban’s system.

As always, the quarterback race will gain the most attention from the media and probably the average fan as well. With the departure of three-year starter John Parker Wilson, longtime backup Greg McElroy has the advantage of knowing the playbook and being in the system, but the now bigger, stronger version of red-shirt freshman Starr Jackson is set to push McElroy for the job. One thing’s for sure, after a Spring and Summer spent facing some of the best defensive players in the nation, one of the two quarterbacks should be ready for any and all opponents. Though inexperienced, the QB position should be deep, with two walk-ons plus highly-touted, incoming freshman A. J. McCarron.

Another huge question that most likely will remain open until deep into Fall camp is the left-tackle position. Junior college transfer James Carpenter (6’5” 305#), a strong candidate, and Tyler Love (6’8” 295#), a top-rated “red-shirt”, will battle through the Spring. However, nothing will be settled until D.J. Fluker (6’7” 345#), the nation’s top offensive lineman in this year’s recruiting class, arrives on campus. Many believe he will start as a true freshman.

There are several positions where the Crimson Tide could be considered loaded. Running-back is one of the most talent-laden areas on the team. Mark Ingram is clearly the stud horse — for the time being anyway. Jeramie Griffin, Ivan Matchett, and Jermaine Preyear are all prototype-Saban backs that have size (210+) and speed. They all complement Nick’s direct-run philosophy. Rising senior Roy Upchurch may be able to overcome his neck injury problems and return, while former starter Terry Grant’s size may limit his role on the team. As with Fluker at left tackle, the starting running-back duties may fall to a true freshman – a stallion out of north Florida, Trent Richardson. This kid may very well be the next Bo Jackson. He’s 5’11”, 220#, and has clocked a 10.5 (100 meter) during a track meet in high school.

Truthfully, the linebackers are the best unit on the team. They’re mean, many, and may very well be among the best group of defenders (at that position) to ever be at Alabama. Six or seven individual players, led by Rolando McClain, will have a legitimate shot at the NFL by the time they reach draft status somewhere down the road. Saban selects large linebackers who fit NFL profiles.

The depth of the defensive line will be more than evident in the Spring game and early in the 2009 campaign as well. For the first time in many years, ten or twelve top-notch down lineman will be fighting for the first four spots in the trenches. This Spring should feature some interesting backup battles and the fresh rotation should make for a healthier group of defensive linemen down the road.

There is a championship-caliber aura starting to form around this Alabama football team. It has become more than evident that they are close. Last year’s 12-2 record stands as a solid reminder that Saban has this program only a few steps away. His third Spring only provides him with another opportunity to bring in and teach more talented players how to play the game his way.

Coach Saban is so nice that he’s even giving his players a Spring break – a chance to study their playbook and prepare themselves for the demanding grind that follows. By the time they get through the “fourth-quarter” program, “Spring break” is probably Spring training for his players, mainly because they get away from the conditioning program for a few days.

By the way, ESPN will televise this year’s A-Day intra-squad game in HD for millions around the nation to see. This will only enhance Nick Saban’s profile among the country’s elite recruits, especially when they see 92,000 crimson-clad fans in the stands cheering like their Crimson Tide was in the championship game. The national spotlight and the “newness” of the event itself is just another positive part of Nick Saban’s leadership that he calls the “Process”.

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  1. 1

    Well-written “preview” of 2009 Alabama football! The sports section of local newspapers and are almost devoid of Bama football news. This column got this reader excited about the upcoming season – Spring & Fall! Hope the TV exposure doesn’t affect the crowd size for the A-Day game.

  2. 2
    E. G. White

    Don’t think tv has a chance of affecting Bama fans, especially when entrance is free. They’ll probably have to turn away 10,000! What bothers me is that to make it entertaining and also attractive to future recruits, Nicky’s gonna have to crank it up and not just go through the motions as in a normal spring game. That could give an excellent VT team information that nobody now has on our revamped offense. We’ll just have to wait and see.

  3. 3
    Auburnisajoke formerly the fan known as Ballplay Indian.

    Good article Shane. I agree that the linebacker position is the best in the country. They will be great. And your right, bama has some great talent and some quality depth. But comparing a kid who has never taken the mail in one college FB game to Bo ? What are you thinking ?

  4. 4

    If you have seen Trent Richardson play, you would know exactly what he is thinking. #1 player out of Fla. 409 yds rushings in one game; 419 in another. I saw him rush for 202 and 3 TD in first half of a game on a WET FIELD.

  5. 5

    Oh yea, Nickjust got his 2nd commit for 2010 Jalston Fowler aka The Beast . 6′ 245 lb of chisled muscle Rb and receiver. He has been under the radar, but not Sabans. Best athlete to come from Vigor in Mobile. He is a big Ingram with hands like JJ. Saw him play one game caught 3 passes in first half. One was a Tebow like low pass which he scooped up. the 2nd was 2 pt conversion and the 3rd was a JPW high but he got up there and snagged it with 1 hand and stayed in bounds in corner of the end zone. It was the offensive play of the year in Mobile.

  6. 6
    OMNIPRESENT aka 36 - 0

    Yep Great read! But please dont insult Bo with your usual analogies! You insulted the GREAT 92 team by comparing last years to them but PLEASE DONT DO UA and Bo that way……But great read none the less 🙂

  7. 7

    Ballplay, Richardson has the potential to be a great player. Consider it a compliment if he is being compared to Bo. If he starts as a true freshman and has a big impact this year, he could be worthy of the praise. But not until he does. But the truth is the potential is there.

  8. 8
    Auburnisajoke formerly the fan known as Ballplay Indian.

    I dont doubt it that the potential is there. But there are a lot of potentially great players that never pan out. Tre Blackmon anyone ?

    You are comparing him to the greatest back in the CFB game ever. Think about it.

  9. 12
    Auburnisajoke formerly the fan known as Ballplay Indian.

    Or maybe the dude that was robbing people at gunpoint. Whatsisface. He was a Sabanite.

  10. 16

    I wouldn’t go as far as to say Bo was the greatest ever. He may have been really good in Tecmo Bowl, but there are several RBs I would rank ahead of Bo. He definitely is the best Auburn ever had.

  11. 17
    Auburnisajoke formerly the fan known as Ballplay Indian.

    Hershel Walker, in the college game is the only other back that I could compare to Bo. Barry was in the big 12. SEC defenses were as dominant then as they are now. I will stand behind tha statement. bo was one of the top 2 ever in COLLEGE football. A tossup between him and Herschell.

  12. 18
    Auburnisajoke formerly the fan known as Ballplay Indian.

    Barry was the best pro ever. Who knows how he wouldve don in the SEC though.

    Look at Ricky Williams. Great CFB player in the Big 12. Flop in the pros. Two diffeerent games.

  13. 19
    E. G. White

    You’re comparing apples to oranges. You cannot say a college back was not great simple because he didn’t do it in the pro’s.You’re right on about Bo, Herschel and Barry with respect to their accomplisments in college. However. Bama, Texas and Oklahoma each had dozens of great backs during the late 60’s and early 70’s who lost out on individual fame because of 4 way sharing the ball in the wishbone offense. And in Bama’s case we still run the football by commitie. In only recent history think what Shaun Alexander might have done if he had averaged 35 carries a game and hadn’t played for a probation weakened Tide team. His career has been plagued by injuries, but he was the most valuable player of the year in the NFL. A hell of an accomplishment. Look at Coffee last year with almost 1400 yards and playing barely over 50% of the snaps. The same is going to happen with Richardson, Ingram, Upchurch and the other half dozen potentially great backs on this years team. So you’re going to have a hard time comparing them to any back like Bo who had the opportunity to pile on the stats.

  14. 20
    Auburnisajoke formerly the fan known as Ballplay Indian.

    Herschell Walker had a pile of carries and a lot of his fame is because of the guady numbers associated with that. Bo on the other hand was rarely a thirty carry back, plus he stayed injured. His senior year was really lackluster in that regard. Both were still the best 2 backs in my opinion. Sanders too. There is no denying what the dude did everywhere he went. Had he not retired Emmitt would have never caught him. Not to mention he did what he did at the freekin Detroit Lions. I know Im being a homer , but Bo was without a doubt the most gifted athlete ever, again IMO. Had the man concentrated soley on football and not gatten hurt, who knows ? But you cant look at stuff like that. My point is, that Shane is high. Never compare a high schooler that hasnt toted the mail in CFB once to Bo. The that is insane. Or typical for Shane.

    And if youll research your statement on Alexander, I think you will see he had more carries than you realize.

  15. 21

    I heard Marcus Allen speak at the Jimmy Rane foundation dinner and if I am not mistaken he still owns all the season rushing records when he was at USC, albeit I know he was not in the SEC.

  16. 23
    OMNIPRESENT aka 36 - 0

    Yea! BUT I KNOW BO!! The only comparison to him is Hershel. hands down, Did any of them PUT the BOS out?

  17. 24

    There have been many great college RBs. Bo is definitely in the top 20. Herschel Walker, Ron Dayne, Tony Dorsett, Red Grange, Ricky Williams, OJ Simpson, Jim Brown, Archie Griffin, Reggie Bush, Earl Campbell, Ladamian Tomlinson, Gayle Sayers, Marshall Faulk, Emmitt Smith, and on and on. Bo was good, but these listed here were also dominating RBs in college football. To say he is the best of all is a stretch. Most of these guys have better numbers than Bo did. I would even add Shaun Alexander to the list.

  18. 25
    OMNIPRESENT aka 36 - 0


    You know if Bo was a uat alum you wouldnt even be questioning hes

  19. 26
    Auburnisajoke formerly the fan known as Ballplay Indian.

    Great list. But, I only said it was my opinion. nothing more , nothing less. Point is , the kid from Florida cant hold Bo’s jockstrap. yet.

  20. 27

    Richardson is strong enough to play in the NFL right. He had a hang clean of 400lbs his junior year at a powerlifting meet. That is a lot even for a college player.

    He ran a 10.5 100 meter. FYI Julio Jones ran a 10.6 to give you an idea of his speed.

    I think the Bo comparisons are pretty accurate. Richardson has a similar running style.

  21. 30

    If Upchurch is healthy after his surgery, TR is going to have to be good to start in front of him and Matchett, Preyear and Griffin, so we will see. I say let the games begin!!!!

  22. 32
    The BAMMER from St. Clair

    YO! Southernjimmy, you got that right! “March Madness” in Alabama is all about FOOTBALL! I’m ALWAYS looking forward when the spring rolls around & FOOTBALL IS IN THE AIR! ‘Bama should be very strong on defense this fall, and if the Tide gets better offensively every week Alabama will DEFINATELY be in the mix of championship hype! But BEWARE; usually when you’re breaking in a new starter at QB there WILL BE GROWING PAINS. It doesn’t matter who the starter is, whether its McElroy, Jackson or McCarron, all three of these guys have never started a game in their collegiate careers. We’re going to have to be PATIENT and let the PROCESS play out, but I LIKE the way the PROCESS has PROGRESSED. Later!

  23. 33

    Tony Barnhart @ wrote that Mcelroy will start against VT. He is very high on Greg with his Texas pedigree. Said the defense will be scarey good. Nico ran down Bryce Brown 3 times at the combine and will get to face nico every year. Tony is high on Bama. Said Saban has stocked up and is loaded with 4 and 5 star studs and elephants and will wreck havoc on the SEC every year! Roll damn Tide!

  24. 34

    Yeah, nate, you right about trent and nfl ready. He is already amazing. To the right; to the left; up the middle with half the defense hanging on. They try to ankle tackle him and he just hurdles them. Most of his scores he goes in standing up. I can’t believe Saban got this freak; he and JJ are two beautiful freaks. Oh, this is gonna be fun watching Bama kick ass and take names. BAMA IS BACK!

  25. 35
    Bengal Tiger

    Beware the year in which you have to start an inexperienced quarterback in the SEC! You need to temper your expectations.

  26. 37
    The BAMMER from St. Clair

    YO! Bengal Tiger, you hit the nail on the head. Being the BAMMER that I am, we have to be realistic about expectations. Alabama should be AWESOME on defense, but offensively the Tide has some serious question marks. However, I have to agree with Southernjimmy about the post he left about Coach Saban building a WAR MACHINE. There’s no question that Alabama’s depth is the best its been in quite awhile, probably the best depth POTENTIALLY since Coach Stallings was in Tuscaloosa. I think that ‘Bama will contend and probably win the SEC West but if we get to Atlanta it will be because of our DEFENSE. The offense will be good, hopefully better that I expect. The talent is there, but its young in some areas and untested. Anyway, I LOVE OUR CHANCES! Later.

  27. 38

    I think RIchardson has great potential to be a great RB, but I will reserve judgement until he actually has at least 1 season under his belt. I am not willing to compare him to Bo Jackson yet. But in my mind he should be the best back at Bama since Shaun Alexander. If he is that, then I will be happy and pleased. He will probably be better than any running back at the Barn this year.

  28. 39

    shane didn’t write this article. zero first person pronouns – conclusive evidence shane didn’t write this

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