An Interview with: ALABAMA Crimson Tide players JAVIER ARENAS, GREG McELROY and ROLANDO McCLAIN (transcript courtesy of SEC Media Relations)
THE MODERATOR: We’ll start with Javier Arenas. Could you talk about the upcoming match up?
JAVIER ARENAS: It’s a great opportunity that me and my teammates have to compete in the SEC Championship once again. I think we worked hard all year in order to put ourselves in this position, as well as the coaches.
And we look forward to going in and just being the best of our ability and have fun while doing it.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. Coach Meyer talked about how good of a returner you are and Coach Saban was lauding your ability. What is it about your game? What do you think you do best in the return game?
JAVIER ARENAS: I can’t really tell you. I guess being a return man is more of natural ability as opposed to something being taught. I just go out there and I do what I’ve been blessed with. I guess you could say I’m quick.
I’ve got great blockers, and as a unit, punt return unit, we try to excel and we try to execute each assignment in order to put ourselves in a position to be successful. So it’s a unit. It’s a unit thing, and it’s all 11 of us working together but me individually, when you ask that question I think it’s just my natural ability.
Q. And with all the talk of the rematch and everything and you guys weren’t trying to talk about Florida in the beginning, the middle, but when did you start thinking about Florida this season?
JAVIER ARENAS: If we don’t win games why think about them, know what I’m saying. We had games such as Tennessee and such as LSU that we had to focus on trying to beat those guys. If we don’t beat those guys we don’t play Florida. Why are we thinking about Florida?
At this point we are. It’s that time. It’s time to go. I think at the beginning of the season we were just a little bit let’s try to get back to that point. But once the season started we had to take care of business and focus on the moment, we had to live in the moment and execute what was in front of us.
Q. Can you talk about the fourth quarter of last year’s SEC Championship game? How did that affect the way you all came back this year? You’ve seen the play with resolve all year and maybe it came from that fourth quarter of that game.
JAVIER ARENAS: To be honest with you, I don’t even remember the fourth quarter. All I remember is we didn’t finish strong in the fourth quarter. That was the story, for the most part not all season, but the season before that was the story.
And it kind of carried on into that game. All I could tell you about that fourth quarter is we didn’t finish and that’s something that we’ve worked on all season. It’s something that we tried to improve in and I think we’re better at it. So, I mean, we’ll basically see. You know?
Q. Seems like you all do have the confidence in the fourth quarter this year that in the fourth quarter you feel like you’re not going to lose?
JAVIER ARENAS: I hope everyone feels like that. That they’re not going to lose in the fourth quarter. Because if you don’t feel that way you shouldn’t be out there. I don’t think that’s the focus for the most part. I think the focus is executing each assignment and just doing your job in order to be successful.
Because if you’re thinking about trying to win in the fourth quarter, you’re thinking about the wrong thing.
Q. A lot of your success and the way people know you is by your return game. Can you talk a little bit about just playing defense and how you work on that just balancing those two?
JAVIER ARENAS: First and foremost, I think people used to know me and recognize me off my return game. I think they recognize me now as a cornerback now.
And the stuff that they see and the stuff I’m about to say, I think a lot of people would agree with. With Coach Saban implemented the things he implemented, I think it’s put me in a position to be successful off blitzes, the techniques and the type of coverage that we play.
I think it helps a lot. And as a team unit and just my mentality, I think all that plays a vital role in me becoming a better defensive back.
Q. How much of him being a defensive minded guy has helped you, what’s he like in terms of a coach in terms of that aspect?
JAVIER ARENAS: I think it helps a lot. I think you could put him with anyone and it would help them out a lot, a coach that is so good at what he does. And me personally it’s helped me out a lot.
It instilled a lot of confidence in me when I realized the stuff he did really worked, when you execute it.
Q. You guys knew for a couple of weeks I know you said you weren’t thinking about Florida throughout the season but you knew for a couple of weeks you would be playing them in the SEC Championship game. Was there any preparation, mental or watching film or thinking about them? When you played Mississippi State they run a similar offense as what Florida does was there any talk about that?
JAVIER ARENAS: I think every year you’re obviously aware of the similarities between Mississippi State’s offense and Florida’s. But besides that, again, you gotta take on the challenge that’s before you before you start thinking about any other things, you know what I mean? You can’t get to the promised land if you’re stumbling over the rocks before you even get there. You’re trying to you’re looking too far ahead you’re not focusing on what’s going on at the moment. You get knocked off you don’t end up there. You get knocked off. When you end up there it’s in a bad position with a bad record because you were thinking about that before you even got there, you know.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about what you’ve seen of Florida’s receivers and how they compare to last year, any differences or similarities you seal?
JAVIER ARENAS: I don’t think it’s any different. I think they just lost a great guy. You’ve still got great guys there. So it’s enough said about that. The guys that they have there, great receivers. Obviously they make plays. They block very, very well. Great hands. Great chemistry with the quarterback.
I mean, I guess it’s the idea receiver quarterback relationship as well as talent that you want on offense.
Q. When you were talking about the improvement you made on the defensive side, you said you used to be known as more kick return, now you’re known for defense. How much motivation was that for you, to want to be somebody who is known as more of a complete player than just primarily a return man and sparking your improvement?
JAVIER ARENAS: It’s not really motivation, because I’ve been motivated from the get go, just to try to not even try to prove just go out and do what I know how to do and that’s play defensive back. And let the rest of it take care of itself. I don’t go out there to prove anything.
I just go out there to do what I’m supposed to do and let everyone else figure everything else out. So it’s not motivation for me. It’s just what I’m supposed to do to help my team become successful. It’s second nature. That’s what you’re supposed to do.
Q. In a big game like this, the special teams is going to make a difference. And just the way you approach the return game, how hard is it not to be patient, to want to break one every time you touch it?
JAVIER ARENAS: It’s very hard, especially when you’re someone like me. You’re very eager to get things done.
I’ve always got to have people on the sidelines telling me relax, calm down, it’s going to come to you, be patient. I’m like: You’re right. I need somebody in my corner to help me out with things like that. I want to get back and make the play.
I know at the same time trying to do too much, I have experience from trying to do too much and fumbling the ball or muffing the ball, all the worst that you can expect. I had experience from that. And I think it’s helped me grow as a return man back there.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Greg, could you talk about the upcoming match up with Florida and the championship game?
GREG McELROY: It should be a tough task. Obviously we’ve been working for this moment. We’ve been working to get back and get an opportunity to play in the SEC Championship game. And we’re very excited and fortunate to be able to have a rematch against a team we played last year.
So everyone’s really looking forward to getting out there and making improvements as needed this week and try to play the best way we know how.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. I just wanted to ask, as you look at Florida’s defense, what’s the top challenges they present and are there any similarities there with Alabama’s defense?
GREG McELROY: Well, really, what they do is not necessarily overly complicated. But what they do have, they have a lot of tremendous talent.
So obviously it’s tough to prepare for in the sense that you can replicate the looks, but it’s difficult to replicate the personnel that they have. So I think that’s really what kind of obviously makes things difficult for defenses.
Now, as far as schematics, they’re not nearly as confusing as our defense, I feel. But as far as speed and flat out talent, they’re very, very similar.
So they do some very good things. They have a lot of confidence in their defensive backs and their secondary. And they do some different things with their pass rushers in their front. And they do a good job of mixing things in. However, it’s not overly complicated. It’s mostly based on a talent.
So really as far as what our defense does and their defense does, they’re pretty different. Tries to confuse you as opposed to trying to line up and beat you with talent.
Q. The comeback win the fourth quarter drive against Auburn this past week, obviously the win and everything surrounding it is hugely important. But how important was it to have that experience of leading a job in the fourth quarter to win the game, how important is it going to be going into this one?
GREG McELROY: I think it’s important for everybody involved. I think the fact that we didn’t play our best game and the fact that we were able to learn and also having gotten the victory is obviously huge for us as a team and as our confidence is concerned.
So it was important for us as an offense. Because most times people will sit back and say, okay, if our offense is put in charge of winning that, shoot, we’re going to be out of luck.
But it was nice for all of us to kind of be able to put together a drive and give them a memorable moment. The fact that everybody in the huddle seemed very confident and seemed very willing, and I think everybody felt strongly that they were going to do exactly what we did and take it right down and score.
I think that was definitely a positive for us on offense and obviously going into a great defensive matchup. This upcoming week against Florida, we’re really going to have to have a good week after having, putting that long and critical drive together, I think that should allow us to go a long way.
Q. Can you talk about your year in general as a starting quarterback and you started fast and then passing game where you kind of struggled but in the end you kind of finished up real strong. Tell me about the learning process of a first year starter?
GREG McELROY: Yeah, as you approach your first season starting in the SEC, you’ve got to understand that I’m not real I don’t think I was real ready for it in the sense that there were going to be ups and downs. I think I was a little bit I kind of saw the glass more as half empty or half full as opposed to half empty, because you are going to have some ups and downs, and even the best players on any given Saturday can struggle.
So I think I had to understand that. And I think all in all, after kind of looking throughout the course of the season, having played 12 games now, I’m very, very happy with my performance.
And the fact that I have improved on things we’ve struggled on at times. We’ve gone through and thrown only four interceptions throughout the course of the season, which is obviously one of our primary goals in the passing game to maintain field position and not turn the ball over.
And we’ve been very productive. I think if you look at things, you know, we’re doing a good job on the passing game. We’re averaging a lot more yards than last year. And we’re doing a good job. We have a lot of good playmakers, and I feel confident in the improvements we’ve made. Now, with that being said, obviously our toughest challenges are still ahead of us.
So we are going to have to continue to play good, continue to make improvements, continue to focus, continue to have great preparation in order to be successful against a good solid Florida team.
You know, it’s a tough and tall order but definitely something we’re going to try to be ready for and something we’re going to try to handle and really be able to have a great week of practice in order to be the best way prepared possible.
Q. Can you tell me what about Mark Ingram’s performance this year has placed him into the short conversation for the Heisman trophy, why do you think he’s being considered for that award?
GREG McELROY: I think he should be considered because of his consistency. Mark has done as good a job as anybody, in both the passing and the running game.
If you really are an advocate of the game and you know and are very focused on every person in the game and their roles, you’ll notice how good Mark is in protection.
I think a lot of people get caught up in the numbers and the statistics for running backs. But when you really look at Mark’s game as a whole, he’s so much more than just 125 yards a game or whatever it is. He does a great job in protection. Does a great job in the passing game, makes plays in yards after a catch. And he’s been a great security blanket for us all of us in our first years as starters, he’s that solid rock.
He’s been a guy we can fall back on when we need to grind the clock and a guy that’s gotten off to great starts in games for us. He’s been very consistent and very positive.
He’s been such a helpful weapon for me in the back field. And we’ve really worked well together. So Mark I expect to totally continue. And he deserves all the credit he’s gotten. He really does. He’s as good as any in the country, in my opinion. And we watch and play against the best running backs in the country week in week out, in my opinion.
Mark gets my vote if I were to have any type of vote in the Heisman. And I’m very proud and happy that he has had that recognition.
Q. How cognizant are you guys of the fact that this game could go a long way to determining whether Mark or Tebow win the Heisman?
GREG McELROY: I don’t think anyone’s worried about that. I know Mark as an individual is not so worried about that.
I think Mark wants to avenge the loss that we had last year in this game. And I think Mark wants to obviously do whatever it takes for him to win. Now, if that’s running for 500 yards, then I’m sure Mark would be more the willing and more than capable of doing that.
Now, if that’s being in protection every play and things like that, then I’m sure Mark would do that, no questions asked and do whatever it takes to win. I think that’s what makes Mark so special.
As big as this award is, for not only just him but the entire offense as a whole, Mark’s more concerned about victories as opposed to rushing yards and touchdowns, because that’s the true measure of a man. That’s why Mark is a special player, because so many guys our age get caught up in the statistics and the individual accolades and things like that, and Mark is very mature beyond his years in the fact that he wants to win championships more so than he wants to win a trophy.
And he also understands that there’s a direct correlation between winning and winning the trophy and winning a championship.
We’re going to try our best to go out there and accomplish things on the field both for the team, and we hope he gets all the credit he deserves, because he’s very deserving of all the credit he’s gotten.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Rolando, if you could just talk about the upcoming match up with Florida and the SEC Championship game.
ROLANDO McCLAIN: It’s a big game. The second time in two years playing these guys. They’re a high powered offense with a very good defense. I think we’re pretty much the same team as far as stats go. Maybe they’re a little bit better on offense as far as stats.
But I think for the most part we’re pretty much the same team. We both have a good defense, a very strong defense, and I mean, we have an offense that’s capable of making plays.
Q. Wondering if you could tell me a little bit about how much this defense has improved, in what ways do you think you guys are better than you were at this point last year, and also if you could talk a little bit about how you’ve assumed kind of a leadership role with making calls and checks and things on the defense?
ROLANDO McCLAIN: I’ve been making calls and checks on the defense as soon as I got here. But leadership wise, I’ve been a leader. I’ve just been accustomed to leading by example more than being a vocal but for the most part this year I’ve been a real vocal leader.
That’s something about me that hasn’t changed. It’s something that Coach Saban needed. He needed me to step up so I did it for the betterment of my team.
And I think as far as our defense, I think we’ve gotten better just because of the simple fact we had a lot of guys returning and we’ve been playing with each other for so long, two, three years, guys have been around and learning the system and we gelled some. So I think that plays into us being a better defense.
Q. How has the linebacker group solidified now? I know you had to deal with the loss of Hightower, with Nico coming in and shifting you have done and how has that group jelled now?
ROLANDO McCLAIN: We’ve jelled. Just going day by day, practice by practice, and just gelling with each other on the run basically.
I haven’t really got accustomed to just one guy being beside me, because Nico only plays in regular and we bring somebody else in for Nico. So I haven’t really got accustomed to somebody, as opposed to when Dante was in every snap with me. It’s like gelling and run.
But I think Coach Willis has done a great job having everybody ready to play and putting everybody in the right spot as well as Coach Saban. So I think even though you can’t replace a guy like Dante, the guys have stepped in and done a good job trying to replace him and stepping in and making plays.
Q. What would you all think of last year’s SEC Championship game, particularly in the fourth quarter, Alabama, when they dug down and won that game. How do you take that and apply that to this year, the season, the way you all played in the fourth quarter this year?
ROLANDO McCLAIN: We always pride ourselves on dominating the fourth quarter. We didn’t dominate the fourth quarter last year when we played Florida. And consequently they won the game. And I guess this whole offseason we pride ourselves on the fourth quarter, the fourth quarter program. Everybody just wanted to finish.
We obviously want everyone to finish. But I think what changed in the fourth quarter was guys we got too caught up in the moment. Coach said if you can do what makes a great player is somebody who is capable of doing what he’s been doing even when things get tough.
And I think our guys got caught up in the pressure and they wanted to be the hero and make the extra effort play instead of just doing what we had to do and doing what our job was and just let our defense take care of itself.
This defense, if everybody does their job and defense takes care of itself. If everybody would have just done what they had to do in the fourth quarter instead of getting caught up in the moment I think we would have been fine. I think the guys understand that now and everybody is trying to play their role, playing their role the best they can instead of trying to be the hero.
Q. You enjoy the fact that you have another chance to play Florida, especially Tim Tebow because seems like you respect him as a player?
ROLANDO McCLAIN: I respect him as a player and a person off the field. He’s a great leader. He’s a great player on the field. And he leads those guys, and I think that team’s run and they’re doing see good because of him.
In my mind, I consider myself to be a pretty good linebacker. If you want to be considered as one of the great linebackers, you have to show up in big games. In my mind it doesn’t get any bigger than this. So I want to go out and play my best game against the best. So I’m just looking forward to playing and showing the world what, not only what I can do, but what this team is capable of and what we can do.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about Florida and how you guys have kind of dealt with it this season? Everybody’s talking about the rematch before the season even started. How did you take the focus away from the Gators throughout the year?
ROLANDO McCLAIN: It was tough taking the focus away. But you have big games. And we had 12 tough games going to this game. So it wasn’t that hard to keep focused. Coach Saban does a great job in keeping us focused.
But it’s always in the back of your mind. Florida put us out of our run for the national championship. It was always in the back of my mind. I know it was in the back of the other guys’ minds.
But we did a good job, with the help of Coach Saban, forcing us to stay focused. We stay focused and we just have to stay focused because, I mean, if we didn’t beat those guys, those other 12 teams, we wouldn’t even be in this circumstance right now. So we just have to stay focused and do your job and keep your mind on what’s important. And those games was important then.
We won them. And we’re glad for them. But now it’s back. We want that rematch. And, like I said, they put us out of our run for the national championship last year, and we haven’t forgotten, it’s been in the back of our mind. We’re going to try to step up and play our best game.
Q. How much of a relief is it to be able to finally say the word Florida this week?
ROLANDO McCLAIN: It’s huge. I guess it’s not a relief because you still have to wait to play them. And you still have to go out there and play them. At the end of the day you can talk about playing Florida and how you want to beat them, but at the end of the day you have to go out and prove it. We just have to wait until Saturday, whatever time we play, we just have to wait until then.
Q. Your defense and Florida’s have been pretty much 1 2 all season in most defensive categories. What similarities or differences do you see in your defense and Florida’s from what you might have been able to see from the Florida Gators this year or last year?
ROLANDO McCLAIN: I haven’t kept my eye on Florida’s defense at all. I know just from the paperwork we get, they’re either No. 1 or we’re No. 1, we’re close behind each other. We’re very near each other. So I don’t really know. Obviously, they’re a very good defense, because they dominate opponents or they wouldn’t be getting the recognition they have been getting.
So I really don’t know what they do. I know they have obviously they have very good players. I know they’re well coached, and I think we’re pretty much the same way. So I really don’t know.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.