Saban explains 'rebuilding year' after Alabama's first practice

Crimson Tide photos / Alabama won the Southeastern Conference championship and reached the title game of the four-team playoff last season, but Crimson Tide football coach Nick Saban referred to that this week as a rebuilding year. He explained what he meant following Thursday's first practice of the preseason.

Alabama won its seventh Southeastern Conference championship in a 10-year stretch last season to earn the top seed in the College Football Playoff, and the program also played for the national title for a ninth time in 13 years.

Obviously not all rebuilding years are equal.

Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban made some headlines on the doorstep of his 15th preseason camp in Tuscaloosa, using "rebuilding year" to refer to last season's 13-2 showing. Alabama even led the national championship game 18-13 with 10 minutes remaining before Georgia pulled away for a 33-18 triumph.

Saban made the comment Wednesday morning on WJOX in Birmingham and was asked about it Thursday afternoon following Alabama's first of 27 practices before its Sept. 3 opener against Utah State inside Bryant-Denny Stadium.

"What's so hard to understand?" Saban said in a news conference. "The point being is that we were young. We should have had nine starters back on offense and nine starters back on defense, but six guys went out for the draft. That's the point I was trying to make.

"When you have a lot of young players playing, you're actually trying to rebuild."

Alabama had rolled through the coronavirus-shortened 2020 season with a 13-0 record, winning 12 of those games by double digits and producing three of the top five finishers for the Heisman trophy: receiver DeVonta Smith (winner), quarterback Mac Jones (third) and running back Najee Harris (fifth).

Bryce Young replaced Jones, the first-round pick of the New England Patriots, and won Alabama's fourth Heisman in the past 13 years, and he is among Alabama's 15 returning starters this season, a total that includes specialists.

The Tide return Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner Will Anderson at outside linebacker, and also back are offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien and defensive coordinator Pete Golding. It's only the second time Alabama has returned both coordinators since 2016, with the other occasions being Steve Sarkisian and Golding in 2020.

"I think it's really good for the players and for the comfort zone they have," Saban said. "It's the same play caller and signal caller in the same system and the presentation of that system.

"We don't change the system when we change coordinators, but the personality and how it gets presented sometimes can be a little different."

Among the players going through Thursday's two-hour practice on the Thomas-Drew practice fields were senior offensive lineman Darian Dalcourt and sophomore receiver Ja'Corey Brooks, a pair who missed spring practice due to injuries. Saban said that fifth-year senior tight end Cameron Latu would miss some of camp this month but did not elaborate.

Saban stressed Thursday that his offensive line must be more physical than a year ago, but he certainly appreciates the player he has running the show.

"Bryce has done a really, really good job from a leadership standpoint," Saban said.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.