Saban admits he's never had returning duo like Young, Anderson

Alabama head coach Nick Saban speaks during NCAA college football Southeastern Conference Media Days Tuesday, July 19, 2022, in Atlanta.

ATLANTA - Alabama football coach Nick Saban will turn 71 during his 21st season in the Southeastern Conference.

Some years have yielded more returning starters than others for this legendary mentor who won the 2003 national championship at LSU and has added six more titles since taking over the Crimson Tide. One would think Saban has experienced it all by this point, but he's never been accompanied to SEC media days by a more accomplished tandem than junior quarterback Bryce Young and junior outside linebacker Will Anderson.

"To have two players who make such a significant impact on our team as those two guys - I don't recall ever having a circumstance like this," Saban said Tuesday as the four-day event continued inside the College Football Hall of Fame. "We've had some great impact players, but never one on offense and one on defense of the caliber that these guys have been able to play on a consistent basis."

Alabama's third player representative Tuesday, senior strong safety Jordan Battle, is by no means shabby as a 2021 Pro Football Focus All-American, and it was Battle who lit up when describing his boss. Saban's 21 seasons as an SEC head coach will put him in rather small company behind Bear Bryant (33 seasons), Vince Dooley (25), Shug Jordan (25), Johnny Vaught (25), Steve Spurrier (23) and Wally Butts (22).

"He's a great guy, and I don't think he'll stop any time soon," Battle said. "He's a football guru. He's with the DBs every day working with us, and the pressure he puts on us makes us go out there and do our thing."

Saban certainly has been outspoken in recent months about his concerns with the name, image and likeness (NIL) landscape, but now is certainly not the time to hang things up. Not with Young and Anderson back for a third go-around.

Young won the fourth Heisman Trophy of the Saban era last season, setting Crimson Tide single-season standards with 4,872 passing yards and 47 aerial touchdowns. He also claimed the Maxwell, Manning and Davey O'Brien awards and enters this year with the potential of becoming the first to win two Heismans since Ohio State running back Archie Griffin in 1974-75.

"For me, the goal isn't ever about individual awards or accolades," Young said Tuesday. "For me, it's about trying to go and win a championship. That's the goal we have every year, and that's what I'm most focused on. The thing I love about Alabama is all you have to do is focus on the team, and when the team has success, the individual goals you set out come into fruition.

"It's about finishing. We didn't finish last year, so that's what I'm focused on."

As a Heisman Trophy winner, Young will forever have a vote, and he could use his first one on Anderson, who finished fifth in last season's balloting after leading the nation in tackles for loss (34.5) and sacks (17.5). He did receive the Bronko Nagurski Award as the nation's top defensive player.

"We all know how good Will is," Young said. "He's tremendous on Saturdays and he's so disruptive, but people don't always get to see how hard of a worker he is and how much he means from a leadership standpoint.

"I'm glad I don't go against him on Saturdays. Going against him throughout the week is enough."

Anderson certainly received his share of attention last season from opposing offenses, but that will be more of a challenge for foes this year due to the emergence of sophomore Dallas Turner on the opposite side.

"Dallas has always been a really good player and has always been a factor," Anderson said. "He's going to be really good this year and a big piece of our defense. Our goal, as a room, is to be the best outside linebacker group in the nation, and we're going to prove that to everybody."

Alabama is not without roster challenges, however, as Saban was quick to point out. The Crimson Tide lacked offensive punch late in the 33-18 national championship loss to Georgia, when former receivers John Metchie and Jameson Williams were sidelined with injuries.

The offensive line is another area that needs retooling, but Saban returns both coordinators - Bill O'Brien and Pete Golding - for a change in addition to bringing back the sport's top players on each side of the ball.

"These guys have not only been great players but have contributed from a leadership standpoint probably as significantly as any leaders that we've had - and we've had some really good leaders in our program and organization," Saban said. "You couldn't ask for two better people. I've always said that when the best players on your team are really good people with great attitudes and a great mindset, it's really helpful to developing the type of chemistry you need to have a successful team."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.