Everything Alabama football coach Nick Saban said at the start of spring practice

Mikey DiLullo
The Tuscaloosa News

Alabama football started spring practice Friday. Here's everything coach Nick Saban said on the start of spring practice:

On the offseason:

"We're excited to be working with our players for the last, I guess, three-and-a-half weeks in the offseason program. I think we had a really good offseason. We got some lifting in, they got some good rest, you know, after the season and after the game. We've got 15 mid-year guys here who are making really good progress, so that's very helpful.

"I think the extra time that we had this year where we got 10 hours instead of eight and we could do a little more walkthrough kind of stuff was really beneficial to the new players, really beneficial to the new coaching staff, because it gave us a lot more time to sort of see them and see the organization of what we do."

On the first day of spring practice:

"So I was pleased with the effort in practice today. I was pleased with where we are. First practice, the effort was good. The attitude was good. The execution was not what it needs to be, but that's why we have practice. That's why we need to practice.

"I kind of challenge the individuals on the team and say, 'Are you going to be individually accountable to do all the things that you need to do to be able to do your job? Or are you going to need someone else to kind of show you the way?' And I think that's important that people be responsible for their own self-determination, especially young players who are trying to learn, so they can take things from the meeting to the walkthrough to the field, so that they can progress and improve. I think that's really important.

"I think self-assessment for those kind of guys is really important too. Having respect for the critical eye when they are corrected, and the coaches tell them something, that they learn from it and they learn from those mistakes and grow. We're excited to be back and excited to be in spring practice. We couldn't go outside today because the fields were too bad, but I was hoping we could, and I'm hoping for better weather next week."

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On Alabama's injury updates:

"You know, we've got some guys that are injured that we don't really need to be asking about every day. Malachi Moore, Phil Mathis, John Metchie, Pierce Quick, and Emil Ekiyor. They're not really expected to participate a whole lot in spring practice from previous injuries that they had. Things that needed to be fixed, probably from the season. In some cases, the guys could finish the season. So, we want to focus on getting these guys well. These guys have played a lot of football last year, and they really have nothing to prove here in the spring, so it's better for us to get more reps with somebody else and let him develop.

"Trey Sanders is actually doing some work, just some individual work, but he's making real progress. He can dry-land run now. He's not 100% but he's getting there, and we're very happy with the progress. He's had a tough road to go, but he's had a great attitude about it, and he's worked hard, and we're really pleased."

FILE - Alabama head coach Nick Saban leaves the field after their win against Ohio State in the NCAA College Football Playoff national championship game in Miami Gardens, Fla., in this Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021, file photo. The National signing day period begins Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

On Alabama's new coaches:

"The new coaches are doing I think really well. I think it's a transition, a little bit. We spent a lot of time working together on offense to implement some new ideas, as well as have new coaches learn the system that we've had here before, and try to improve on it. Defensively, we only have one guy, and Jay's (Jay Valai, defensive backs coach) done a great job. He's very smart, he's learned quickly, and he's added some things for us, which made us better. So, we're really happy about that."

On Bryce Young:

"Well, I think that it was – you know, I've said this before – we wanted to play Bryce more last year. We probably didn't play him as much as we wanted. We'd have liked to a little bit, but because we're playing 10 SEC games, and we didn't have any other games that we could sort of work him into more.

"But I thought he did a good job. I thought at times he was feeling his way out there, not playing with the kind of confidence we would like for him to play with, but it's part of his development. He learned from it and he's been much better in practice, like today. This was the first day we could actually throw, and I thought he did a good job throwing. The players have been throwing on their own some, which we don't get to see, but he did a pretty good job today and he looked a lot more comfortable sort of managing and executing the offense and playing fast. So, I mean that was really encouraging."

On new offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien:

"Well, I think Bill's a really, really good coach. He's coached with some really good coaches. He's had some really, really good success at what he's accomplished and what he's done. I think it's really difficult when you have somebody come in and try to learn your system, which he has done a really good job of. To try and implement that system and tweak it to make it better, based on the quality control we did last year.

"But the big thing I've tried to emphasize with the new coaches, you know, it's kind of human nature to want to come in and make an impact, and do something that's great. We just need you to do a good job coaching our players, getting them to play the best that they can play, getting players to understand our system and what we do in a positive way, and there's no expectations.

"You know, we shouldn't be making comparisons to what we did last year on offense and how we're going to be next year on offense. I think the focus needs to be on how do we get the players that we have to be the best offensive team that we can be, and we'll all work together on that, and so far that's worked really well."

On Alabama's defense:

"I know everybody complains about the defense, but we were like first in the SEC in points allowed and 13th in the country in points allowed. So I think what people visualize as good defense is different now than what it use to be.

"But I think the single thing we have to improve on, which was the worst that it's been since we've been here, is third down. Getting off the field on third down was an issue for us a year ago, and it's a combination of how we pressure, how we cover, whatever. Some of that starts with when it was second-and-long, we did a poor job of making it third-and-long. It would become third-and-very-manageable for the offense. So this whole idea of getting off the field and not giving the other team more opportunities to have chances to be able to make plays, I think that's the single most obvious thing that we need to improve on.

"There's other things. Could we have played the run a little bit better? Yes. Did we give up too many big plays? Probably, early in the season in some games. If you make a comparison to years past, especially the last couple years – and I'm not taking up for the guys because we need to get a lot better on defense – people are not giving up eight points a game anymore. I've talked a lot about how people take advantage of the rules we have in college football, and how they favor the offense, and how it's very difficult to play really good defense now. So, we keep tweaking and we keep working.

"I think we have a little more experience coming back on defense, which will probably help us. I see a lot more players out there. Last year at this time we had, like, seven or eight new guys, and four out of five in the secondary, and now we only lost one guy in the back end, and one linebacker and one down guy. So, we had a lot of guys that had a lot more playing time. So they should be a lot more confident. Between third down and mental errors that created big plays, I think those are the two things we're really focused on."

On Alabama's defensive depth chart:

"Well, we'll do both. He'll (Christian Harris) play some Mike and some Will. He'll play some Mike and some money in nickel. (Jaylen) Moody can play both. Shane Lee played a whole year here at Mike. He's healthy now. He was not healthy last year. Coming off that sports hernia thing, he struggled all year long, so he's done a lot better. We're going to go through the whole spring. I mean, we do things differently in the spring.

"I know you guys want answers to all the questions. We play right and left safety, we play right and left outside backer, we play right and left inside backer so they've got to be Mike, they've got to be Will. I mean, we're trying to create diversity in players. We're not trying to give you answers so you could write about who the starter is everywhere. Then we'll figure out at the end of the spring and next fall when we go into fall camp, OK, this is the best way for us to play. But if we don't experiment and move all these guys around, but then the other good thing about that is next year you can get the next best guy in the game because he can play Mike or Will. All right, so it's a really good question, but it's not one that's going to have an answer for a long time."

On teams getting penalized for fake injuries:

"We never ask our players to go down in the game to stop the clock. Never ever done it. Never had a player do it. I don't think it's good for the game. I don't have a solution to the issue. I don't have a solution to the problem. And, you know, people do it because the offense goes so fast. So, I have no problem with the offense going fast. So, we don't think it's important to control the pace of a game or how many plays a player has to play at a fast pace. We talk a lot about player safety and a lot of issues. We don't think that's an issue, so I don't have a solution for what we should do to remedy that. But I don't think it's good for the game."

On Alabama's success in other sports:

"I'd like to wish the men's and women's basketball teams good luck in the tournament. We're really excited for both teams. We're really proud of what both teams were able to accomplish. I'd like to congratulate our men's team on winning the season SEC championship as well as the SEC Tournament. I have a tremendous amount of respect for competitors, and the last two games those guys played in the SEC was a lot of toughness, a lot of mental toughness, and I'm really proud of the way they competed in the game, so that was really fun to see.

"I'm really excited for my man Justin Thomas to win the Players (Championship). I thought it was a great win for him, and to see him get back to being himself is really, really special."