I'll be the first to admit that when Nick Saban came to Alabama I thought he would work some magic spell and turn the team from soft to rock hard over night. I didn't really expect them to be a championship caliber team right off the bat, but I did expect them to be bigger and stronger. I, like many, probably expected too much.
What did happen; however, was Nick Saban made them better football players. What he was preaching when he arrived was running, running, running. He said players in some cases were too heavy. He wanted his team in shape to play four quarters and then some.
The results began to show in year one as the team managed a thrilling 4th quarter win over Arkansas, something unseen in the Shula Era. Weeks later however the team began a collapse that left many heartbroken. How could this be happening again under Saban?
I was disappointed beyond words myself, but surely things would get better from here. To my surprise, the following fall, I once again saw little change in size. It was clear once the season started that the team had taken another leap forward in conditioning as they rumbled through the 2008 schedule to a 12-0 start. The gospel according to Saban was clearly working, but I assumed Alabama would have to recruit size instead of build it.
Then the roster was released a few weeks ago. Somehow over the quiet summer, in which you could have sworn there was nothing going on in Tuscaloosa, the team clearly turned a corner. As practice photos began to surface some players were almost hard to recognize. I sat down and did a comparison with my files from last year and found significant weight gains, especially on defense.
The following list shows some of the results of this summers workout sessions:
Mark Barron +12
Ali Sharrief +15
Westley Neighbors +20
Kareem Jackson +8
Javier Arenas +13
Chris Rogers +12
Lorenzo Washington +7
Marcel Dareus +19
Josh Chapman +13
Brandon Deaderick +20
Eryk Anders +10
Courtney Upshaw +24
Milton Talbert +23
Glenn Harbin +7
Chris Jordan +29
Dante Hightower +7
Jarrell Harris +7
Corey Reamer +11
Weight alone would not necessarily be a good thing, but since the team passed Saban's hardcore conditioning tests, one thing is certain: the weight these players gained was premium muscle mass.
A few offensive guys put on weight as well, with speed being a premium on offense. A few guys lost a few pounds who were overweight but one person in particular was going the other way fast. Terrance Cody's current published weight is 41 pound below his weight when he decimated Clemson in Atlanta.
I'm no personal trainer but its obvious Nick Saban and his strength and conditioning staff know what they are doing and finally in the third year of the Saban era we will see the old fashioned kind of Alabama team.
The kind that can demoralize a lesser team just by walking out for the warmup.
Make no mistake, intimidated or not, no team rolls over on the football field anymore, but some teams will find themselves unable to withstand the size, strength, and speed of the Alabama defense in 2009.