Friday, June 1, 2012
Nussmeier knows what works
By Alex Scarborough
MOBILE, Ala. -- Doug Nussmeier isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel at Alabama.
Yes, he’s a former record-breaking college quarterback who likes to throw the ball around. And, yes, he wants to use AJ McCarron to the best of his abilities. When he talks about the depth and talent at wide receiver, his eyes light up.
There’s a plan formulating in the newly minted Alabama offensive coordinator’s mind, but it’s not one bent on overturning the offensive philosophy that has won the Crimson Tide two national championships in three seasons.
For as much as Nussmeier salivates over the quarterbacks and receivers, he’s shown as much interest in running backs, tight ends and the offensive line.
Prior to a speaking engagement in Mobile on Thursday night, Nussmeier spoke to reporters about the excitement surrounding his first year at the Capstone and the talented roster he’ll have at his disposal. And like any quarterback worth his salt, Nussmeier started his praise with the offensive line.
“When you look at our offensive front, it’s a very veteran group, an experienced group,” Nussmeier said of a line that includes five returning starters and the reigning Outland Trophy winner in Barrett Jones. “They’ve played well together. It’s really good when you can come in and have that kind of strength in your offensive front.
“It’s exciting when you have that kind of group up front that can protect the quarterback and then come off the football and let you run it.”
Spend any amount of time with Nussmeier, and it’s clear he gets it. Whether it’s talking about the offensive line or overall offensive philosophy, you can see why Nick Saban hired him away from the University of Washington in January.
When asked why he thought Saban gave him the job, reporters caught a glimpse into how that interview process might have gone -- and why he clearly aced it.
“When you look at the base premise of playing good offensive football, the way Saban has done it over time,” Nussmeier explained, “you look at the ability to run the football and the ability not to turn the football over. Those are obviously two key elements to winning football games.”
Then he smiled widely and continued with a heavy dose of sarcasm in his raspy, dry voice: “And then we won’t do anything new at all. It will be the same exact plays as last year. We’ll just change the order we ran them in.”
Nussmeier gets it. The pressure of entering his first season as coordinator at UA is difficult enough, let alone the fact that he’ll do so as defending national champions.
But never mind that, he says. It’s just a challenge, one he was all too glad to accept.
“It’s a very, very intriguing situation. It’s a great challenge,” Nussmeier said. “One of the things that excited me about this opportunity was getting an opportunity to become part of Coach Saban’s staff and work with the great coaches that are on this staff, and to fit in and get in here and see how they’ve done things and the reasons we’ve been as successful as we have.
“And then, hopefully, I can bring some things to that.”
Part of bringing something new to the table will be his tutelage of McCarron, who enters his second year as starting quarterback for the Tide. Nussmeier has a strong history of developing quarterbacks, mentoring first-round picks and NFL veterans.
With McCarron, Nussmeier sees potential and room for growth. More than that, he likes his junior quarterback’s attitude.
“AJ is a guy that he’s in every day. He’s eager. He wants to learn. He wants to be great,” Nussmeier said, noting the two have meshed well in the short time since he was hired. “He’s done a great job of really getting in this offseason and looking at the season past, evaluating his strengths, the weaknesses and the things he can focus on moving forward to make himself as good a player as he can possibly be.”
Some in the media nitpicked McCarron’s performance last year, pointing out a lack of downfield passing and head-scratching decisions at times. Nussmeier has watched the tape and has gone through the same things as a player himself, and he’s not buying it.
“It’s the criticism of every quarterback,” Nussmeier said. “It’s all in the eye of the beholder. There are obviously things in AJ’s game that he can develop, but there’s also things he did extremely well for us last year.
“The thing is, when you play the position of quarterback, the biggest thing is not to have to make plays, but let the offense work for you and let the plays develop within the offense.”
If it sounds like the words of Saban coming out of Nussmeier’s mouth, don’t be alarmed. There was no ventriloquism at work in South Alabama on Thursday night. Nussmeier wasn’t reading a memorandum or speaking from a teleprompter. The young offensive coordinator is cut from the same cloth as his new boss and knows a good way of playing football when he sees it.