Nick Saban stays neutral on Super Bowl LI

Nick Saban stays neutral on Super Bowl LI

January 26th, 2017 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Before becoming a star for the NFL's Atlanta Falcons, Julio Jones, left, played wide receiver at the University of Alabama (2008-10). He finished his Crimson Tide career with 179 catches for 2,653 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Alabama football coach Nick Saban has decided to play the role of Switzerland in Super Bowl LI, though he is quick to admit his admiration for Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones.

The highest-rated recruit in Saban's 2008 signing class, Jones shredded Green Bay's secondary this past Sunday, amassing nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns in Atlanta's 44-21 NFC championship victory. The Falcons are making just their second Super Bowl appearance, while this will be trip number nine for New England and the seventh with coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady.

"I hope Julio does a good job, but we also have some players on New England, and their coach is a good friend," Saban said this week to reporters covering the Senior Bowl, "so it's hard for me to pick sides."

Saban was Belichick's defensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns from 1991 to '94.

Linebacker Dont'a Hightower and cornerback Cyrus Jones are former Crimson Tide players with the Patriots, while receiver DeAndrew White is on their practice squad. Atlanta also has former Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw, but no former Saban player stands out more than Jones.

The sixth overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft has compiled 7,610 receiving yards over his six regular seasons, but it's actually more like five given he has missed 17 games in his professional career because of injuries. The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder has a staggering 4,873 yards the past three regular seasons, a 45-game stretch in which he has averaged 108.3 yards.

"I think Julio is a great player, and he's got great character and a great attitude," Saban said. "He's a great competitor, and he's one of my favorite guys that I've ever had the opportunity to coach as far as how he impacted the game and his teammates.

"I am so happy for him. He had a fantastic game."

Jones had a stellar freshman season at Alabama, collecting 924 receiving yards with four touchdowns and averaging 15.9 yards per catch. As a junior in 2010, he had 1,133 yards and seven scores, averaging 14.5 yards a reception.

Alabama will be represented well at Saturday's Senior Bowl, with tight end O.J. Howard, snapper Cole Mazza, defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson and outside linebacker Ryan Anderson competing for the South squad. Defensive lineman Jonathan Allen, inside linebacker Reuben Foster and outside linebacker Tim Williams elected to bypass the event, and Saban said each of those three were a little banged up after what turned out to be a second consecutive 15-game season.

"They all had good reason not to play in the game," he said.

Kicker commitment

Alabama landed a kicker for its 2017 signing class Wednesday when Joseph Bulovas of Mandeville, La., made a nonbinding commitment. The 6-foot, 205-pounder is rated by as a three-star prospect and the No. 8 kicker nationally.

Bulovas committed two days after decommitting from Georgia Tech.

The Crimson Tide had a commitment from another three-star kicker, Brandon Ruiz of Gilbert Ariz., who was rated No. 2 in the country. Ruiz opened up his recruitment earlier this month and is now committed to Arizona State.

Still no specifics

Steve Sarkisian will be Alabama's offensive coordinator for 2017, while Mike Locksley will be co-offensive coordinator.

That much is known, but Saban has yet to detail what position or positions Locksley will oversee. He is replacing Mario Cristobal, who handled tackles and tight ends.

Locksley, like Sarkisian, worked this past season as an analyst for an offense coordinated by Lane Kiffin.

"We're really happy to have Mike," Saban said. "When we get all the changes we're going to make on the staff worked out, we'll make an announcement about who's going to coach what and where."

Saban said he did not anticipate any more changes to the staff, adding that one never knows.

Contact David Paschall at or 423-757-6524.