By Hunter Ford
Alabama coach Nick Saban’s message to his team this week is for it to focus on getting better in order to take advantage of opportunities that lie ahead.
The Tide takes on Western Carolina Saturday for homecoming week, and will face Auburn the following week. If Alabama wins those two games it will be headed to Atlanta for the SEC Championship game and will remain on track for an appearance in the first College Football Playoff.
Saban became progressively agitated at his Monday press conference, answering questions about his strategy for the Western Carolina game. Several Tide players, including three starters, have lingering injuries and might benefit from rest this week.
Saban said his players all need to focus on critical elements of their game, regardless of playing against a perceived weaker opponent. This is not a time to believe it is not necessary to practice hard, Saban said.
“Everybody has to stay focused on what they have to do,” he said. “It’s not about the other team; it’s about what we have to do to get better. Stay focused on what you have to do to improve. That goes for all players.”
Saban said the Tide needs to work on several phases of the game including “covering,” “blocking,” “carrying out fakes,” and “catching the ball.”
Special teams player Altee Tenpenny tasted Saban’s wrath last week when he was late to a team meeting and wasn’t allowed to dress for the Tide’s showdown with then top-ranked Mississippi State.
“Altee Tenpenny was late for the meeting and I just told him to pick his stuff up and we’ll see him later,” Saban said when asked about Tenpenny’s absence last week. “If it’s not important enough for him to be at the meeting, it’s not important enough for me to dress him in the game.”
Blake Sims running
Asked about quarterback Blake Sims impromptu runs, Saban said he is okay with them as long as Sims doesn’t miss other opportunities. He said Sims missed an uncovered receiver at least once in the Mississippi State game.
“We know that Blake’s style of athleticism is something that can be a benefit to us,” Saban said. “We want him to use good judgment, and he has used good judgment. At the same time, we want him to go through his progressions.”
Saban said he feels the same way watching Sims run as he does watching him pass and hoping a receiver will make the catch.
“I want what everyone else wants. ‘Let’s get a first down and see if we can score’,” Saban said.
Depth at skill positions
Saban said running back Tryen Jones and receiver ArDarius Stewart have stepped up and given the Tide depth at skill positions. He said the coaching staff has tried all year to work Stewart into the playing rotation. Stewart made key plays against Mississippi State.
Saban also praised the play of safety Nick Perry whose improvement has helped the secondary.
T.J. Yeldon, DeAndrew White and Adam Griffith will be day-to-day in practice this week. All have nagging injuries, but nothing new, according to Saban. Saban said punter J.K. Scott can kick off and attempt long field goals if Griffith is unavailable. Saban said he may look at other players to attempt short field goals.
Saban continued to praise the consistency of Scott, whose “phenomenal” punting played a key role in the Mississippi State game, keeping the Bulldogs in poor field position in critical times.
He said the punt coverage needs to do a better job, noting that the Tide has given up a few 10 or 12 yard returns on long punts.