Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Notebook: Special teams offer opportunity
By Alex Scarborough
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It's no secret that the Crimson Tide will be younger this season. Losing more than 10 starters and even more role players to graduation will create that feeling.
Up and down the Alabama roster, the options are seemingly limitless, starting with special teams. UA coach Nick Saban told reporters Tuesday that he wants to see a handful of players take ownership on kickoff and punt return coverage, as well as field goals.
For a team of four- and five-star athletes unaccustomed to sprinting downfield on kickoffs, getting volunteers isn't always easy, but Saban has a strong sales pitch for them.
Vinnie Sunseri (3) was a special-teams standout as a freshman and now is fighting for a starting spot.
"There's not a player that's not a starter on an NFL team that doesn't have to be a good special-teams player to make the team," Saban said. "I try to tell every guy on our team, especially the young players, the star players come from high school and never had to play on special teams, that you guys need to learn how to play on special teams right now.
"Your ability to execute and do your job on special teams is just as important as it is to be a running back, a receiver, a defensive back, a linebacker or whatever position it might be."
Last season, freshmen Vinnie Sunseri and Trey DePriest starred on special teams. Now, both are vying for starting jobs and are looking for someone else to step up and fill their spots.
"There have been some guys that have showed that they really want to do that and that's important to them," Saban said. "That will be beneficial to us. Because the more you have to play starters on special teams, I think that affects you long-term in terms of the wear and tear that you have on guys and how they get worn down in games. We need more players to have a role. I think it's great for team chemistry that more players have a role as well."
'Pull the pin'
Alabama put on full pads for the first time during fall camp on Tuesday, and Saban said the comfort level is getting better with each day. The tentativeness he spoke about before Sunday morning's practice is still a worry, though.
"If they don't know what to do, they're really not going to play very fast," he said. "It's going to take them a while to get confidence in what they do so they can pull the pin and go out there and play the kind of football they need to play."
In order to get the young roster acclimated quickly, Saban said coaches are stressing that every player get repetitions, and tomorrow he said they'll start from scratch again to ensure that players are learning the proper fundamentals.
In all, Saban said he's been happy with the progress -- but only to a point.
"I'm really kind of pleased with the work and the progress that our team has made to this point," he said. "I didn't say satisfied; I just said pleased."
As it turns out, Alabama does have a Twitter policy. Saban said it goes like this: "The policy is if you do it responsibly, you can do it. Abuse brings control." Saban said the staff simply monitors players' accounts and steps in when necessary.
Saban singled out a few players for praise. He said AJ McCarron has "been a great leader" and noted that D.J. Fluker and Amari Cooper were doing well. Cooper, a top-10 prospect at receiver coming out of high school, enrolled early at Alabama and has drawn overwhelmingly positive reviews from the coaching staff.
Wilson Love was back at practice and feeling fine after tweaking his ankle Monday, Saban said.
Chris Black is "very, very questionable," according to Saban, after injuring his shoulder during practice on Sunday. Black was dressed out for practice but did not participate in drills.
2012 signee Brandon Hill has not been cleared to play yet. Saban said he expected to learn something later in the day.