Alabama’s Nick Saban talks about spring game

Alabama Crimson Tide head football coach Nick Saban spoke about spring practice and his team at the conclusion of the annual spring game. Saban covered his team’s performance, quarterback play and if the Alabama Crimson Tide deserve a preseason #1 ranking. The official transcript from the University follows below:

Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban (via UA Media Relations)
Opening Statement:
“It’s a fantastic weekend for the University of Alabama. First of all, we had all the players that came back for the golf outing, the basketball tournament yesterday, the flag football game today and the big dance and party we had last night. They’ve been great ambassadors for this university so that was a fantastic start to it.

“I thought the way our players competed out there today, the effort was good. I thought there was a lot of toughness. I don’t think the execution was always what you like for it to be in terms of crispness. I was pleased with the overall performance with a limited offense and a limited defense, how our players competed in the game and how they played in the game. I think the most important thing now is that we’re not an offense, we’re not a defense, we’ve come together as a team. I think that all the choices and decisions this team makes between now and next year, in terms of what they’re commitment to a standard of excellence is, is how we continue to improve, how we develop as a team. Whether it’s the work ethic that we have, the accountability, the responsibility to do the things that we need to do for everyone to do their job, the positive energy we do it with, and the togetherness and leadership, we have to get everybody to do it on the same page. All those things are things, when you develop a good team, you have those elements.

“I was really pleased with the overall outcome of today. We didn’t get anybody injured, which is always the most important thing. You really can’t lose a spring game unless you lose players.

“I think it’s fantastic, the atmosphere that’s created by our fans. To have over 90,000 people at the spring game, I think this is the second most, the first one was in 2007, and it sends a positive message about passion, enthusiasm, tradition, and that this is a great place to play in terms of interest and enthusiasm and we’re excited about it. I know a lot of recruits said ‘we’re here today, we’re excited about it’ as well as our players that we just finished recruiting. There’s nobody that appreciates it more than the players on our team. I’ve been places where you really work hard to get players to finish one practice. We have to work on getting our players to focus on the last practice or two because the A-Day game is such a big deal. They’re looking forward to the game, they want to play in the game, and I think it’s a good thing. I think it’s a good thing for college football, and for our players, and it’s all due to the fan support and the interest and everybody coming out to support the team. We’re pleased.

“We were really pleased to have ESPN here. It slows the game down a little bit with commercials and the organization of it, but the exposure is great for our program and players so we’re certainly happy that they were here and hope they were pleased with the hospitality while they were here.”

On his overtime rules for the game:
“We were just going to keep playing. There wasn’t going to be any overtime. It was going to be sudden death. Everybody was going to go for it on fourth down. It was getting implemented there with two seconds to go, and the teams were going to take their shots because somebody is going to eat steaks and somebody is going to eat beans on Monday. Other than that, it didn’t matter. As the commissioner I have to represent the winning club so, therefore, I have to eat steak.”

On the questions that have been answered this spring and what questions still remain:
“I think the big question is individual in nature in terms of personality. We lost a lot of good players on defense and you’re always looking to try to get your best players on the field in spring practice, get them in the right places and hope that the young players on the team that have an opportunity now will have a greater role on the team and develop and improve. In a lot of cases we had that happen but we still have some questions and we still have some issues. Michael Williams had a really good spring at tight end and that was a question that we had. We’re really pleased with the progress that the quarterbacks have made so we feel really comfortable about the strength and depth we have there. On the offensive line we feel like we probably have seven or eight guys that could play for us right now, which we really haven’t had that kind of depth at this point in the season, but we still feel like we need to make progress at right tackle regardless of who we play at that position. Defensively we lost three out of four starters at linebacker, and we lost five or six guys that played a large role in the secondary. A lot of those questions have been answered. Dont’a [Hightower] came back to play a good spring, and his leadership has affected everyone else. We’ve made a lot of progress as a defensive unit. I’m pleased with the progress of the first two corners and having the two freshman guys here (John Fulton and Demarcus Milliner), I thought they made some progress. We’re not totally settled at safety, but we still have questions. The kicking game – I think we have two good enough kickers between their accuracy, the leg strength of one guy and the accuracy of the other – we can come up with a pretty good kicking game from that stand point. Taylor Pharr was probably the best punter but he had a concussion the other day in practice so he didn’t get cleared for the day or he would have been punting today. We’re going to have two young guys in that position [punter] next year and one of those guys is going to have to come through. There are still questions, but there has been a tremendous amount of progress made. We’re not satisfied with where we are, but we’re certainly not disappointed with the progress we’ve made up to this point. I really look forward to working between now and the first game so that we can make progress in other areas. I’m sure there are going to be some young guys that come in this fall that are going to contribute some answers to these questions.”

On the quarterback play:
“I thought they all did pretty well. A.J. McCarron did a nice job. I thought Phillip Simms did a nice job. Star Jackson did a good job. The thing that probably concerned me most out there was that we didn’t do a lot of multiples of pass rushes. I would like to have seen the quarterbacks have a more solid pocket on a more consistent basis. We need to work improving the pass protection. That has not been an issue in the last two scrimmages, but we need to make improvements in that area.”

On how deserving this team is of a preseason No. 1 ranking:
“I really don’t want to comment on that. If this team is No.1, it’s because of what they did last year because they haven’t done anything. We have some good players back and we have a lot of issues and questions, especially on defense and our specialist in the kicking game. How those problems get solved and what kind of commitment and attention to detail this team has to improve and focus on the process of what they need to do to be successful is going to determine how good this team is. That can’t be determined in a poll and it doesn’t make any difference what anybody thinks, it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish. That’s what our players need to understand as well. If I was voting, I would think there is somebody who has more players coming back that had a successful team last year that is going to be more ready to compete. Do I like our team? I love our team. Do I like our players? I love our players. Do I think we can develop into a good team? Absolutely, but I’m not a big poll guy.”