TUSCALOOSA, Al. — It may be hard to believe, but fall camp is over for the Alabama football team, and the Crimson Tide can squarely turn their focus to West Virginia and the season opener in Atlanta.
There were plenty of storylines to follow for the last three weeks, as Alabama got back to the practice field as a team in preparation for the season.
Before the first week of the season begins, let’s wrap up the last week of fall practice and set the stage for the first week of in-season practice. Here’s the Week 3 stock report.
When asked what his biggest takeaway has been through these last three weeks with his team, Alabama coach Nick Saban said it was the off-field attitude of his team and hinted at something that could have been a problem last season.
"I think this team really and truly likes each other," Saban said. "I think this team is much more bought in at doing the things they need to do to be successful. There's not a lot of complaining. I don't hear a lot of negativity; I don't see a lot of negative people. And I think that's always a good sign."
The players’ leadership team took that upon them to remedy that negativity as well.
They’ve been planning team get-togethers like cookouts at players' houses. The defensive line plays video games (FIFA, Madden and UFC are the favorites) to bond.
Tight end Brian Vogler, right tackle Austin Shepherd and quarterback Jake Coker—who teammates call a “country guy”—went on a fishing trip. If players who don’t normally hang out in the same friend group see each other out and about, they’ll say hey and strike up a conversation, rather than struggle through the forced pleasantries of the past.
"We all like to play video games, and then of course we like to eat," defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson said. "We all go out to eat a lot."
It’s a fresh change from some of the reported contention in the locker room in 2013.
Final injury report
While there were a number of bumps and bruises along the way, Alabama came out of camp relatively healthy, which can’t necessarily be said of other top teams around the country.
In fact, the Crimson Tide’s situation is probably better than it was when camp started.
Eddie Jackson, likely Alabama’s top cornerback option after the 2013 season who sustained a knee injury in the offseason that required surgery, is much further along than many expected.
He’s taken part in fall camp from the first day, and while he’s been on what Saban calls a “pitch” count, Jackson could be ready to play sooner rather than later—a far cry from the vague “this fall” Saban announced at the time of his surgery.
"Eddie Jackson is back practicing and doing well," Saban said. "But probably not where he needs to be to be able to—because he missed a few practices—we're just going to take him one day at a time and see how fast he progresses, see where he gets to."
A'Shawn Robinson worked w a brace on his left knee. Offensive lineman Dominick Jackson & Tim Williams were back too. pic.twitter.com/r58lAPaDZl— Aaron Suttles (@AaronSuttles) August 20, 2014
Otherwise, the players who suffered minor injuries during camp—linebacker Trey DePriest, defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson and offensive linemen Leon Brown and Dominick Jackson—are just about back to full strength and getting back up to speed in terms of conditioning.
Team takes ice bucket challenge
The Alabama football team joined in with the thousands of people across the world taking the ice bucket challenge to raise awareness for ALS. (You can view the video on the team’s website.)
It went much better than the first time Saban was doused with liquid from a cooler, when he got hit in the head after winning the BCS National Championship against Texas.
“Oh yeah, we had them throw it off the porch so nobody could get hit in the head,” Saban said. “We had the whole team there and they had about 15 buckets. It was good. That's why I changed shirts.”
Saban challenged U.S. senator Joe Manchin, whom Saban grew up with in West Virginia, former Alabama running back Mark Ingram, college football personality Paul Finebaum and Florida head coach Will Muschamp.
“Something as small as that, that means more than a lot of things we've ever done as a team,” center Ryan Kelly said. “As a team, we can get off the field and help a great cause. It's something bigger than what we are. Things like that where somebody might overlook that as an outside person. But that just helps you build a team. "
Quarterback race as tight as ever
Vogler is one of the few players on Alabama’s roster who was around for the 2011 quarterback battle and the current one that’s still raging on. He senses a different atmosphere, though, this time around compared to when AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims duked it out.
“I think last time there was a competition it was kind of clear-cut who the favorite was and who took command of the offense—no offense to Phillip Sims or anything like that,” Vogler said. “It’s kind of harder to tell right now. Both guys are just taking control of the offense, and they want it so bad. We’re all comfortable with whoever it is that’s out there at the end of the day.”
By all indications, this race is still very much a close one. That can complicate things at times, but Alabama and Saban still aren’t ready to name a starter.
“It’s kind of an awkward thing to talk about,” Vogler said. “It’s hard making that transition where you go into the huddle and you see one face, then you come back out after a series, let the twos go, and go back out there and it’s a new face. You’re just like, ‘I gotta get used to a different cadence, I’ve gotta get used to hearing the play just worded a little differently.’ It’s been a little tolling on all of us, just with that contrast. But I think once it gets sets in stone, we’ll be rolling.”
Vogler shared a Coker story that sums up the Florida State transfer’s attitude toward the competition amidst the relentless talk around it.
In addition to being a “country guy,” he isn’t much for technology either.
Coker sat at his locker one day after practice, and the SportsCenter anchors on the TVs in the locker room started to break down Alabama’s quarterback competition—”Blake and Jake,” as Vogler called it.
A walk-on noticed and said, “Hey, Jake, you’re on TV.” Coker kept his head down, didn’t miss a beat and just responded: “Cool.”
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