TUSCALOOSA — Minkah Fitzpatrick needed little time to think.
How much, a reporter asked, of Alabama’s offensive playbook — one overhauled by new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and catered to quarterback Jalen Hurts’ progression as a dropback passer — would be seen Saturday when the Crimson Tide take the field for A-Day?
“Not a whole lot,” Fitzpatrick said, almost before the question ended.
But what about on defense — the unit tasked with replacing five starters and one coach Nick Saban’s repeatedly maligned for its performance this spring against that aforementioned offense?
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“Nope,” Fitzpatrick said.
Saban’s first A-Day packed 95,000 people inside Bryant-Denny Stadium, all there to recognize the beginning of his resurrection of their football program. It has established the standard to which all spring games must adhere, Saban says.
“Because of that, Saban said Thursday, “now everybody tries to promote their spring game to get as big a crowd as they can as if that’s going to be something that’s going to help them promote promote the kind of energy and enthusiasm to catapult their program forward.”
Schools now market these glorified scrimmages as weekend-long affairs, inviting former players back to campus while enticing national television audiences with the scent of college football four and a half months before the games begin.
ESPN will televise Alabama’s game, scheduled for a 2 p.m. kickoff.
It creates a conundrum for the Crimson Tide. It will run the first-team offense against the first-team defense, balancing a need to test its new scheme under some semblance of game conditions while knowing every step is broadcasted to many analytical eyes 133 days before it opens the season against Florida State.
“My theory on it is we want to stay basic to try to get better execution with the players, especially some of the other guys, the backup players that don’t have the knowledge or experience,” Saban said in his final news conference before A-Day. “But the second part of that is it would be very foolish to do things that are new to our offense that we would show our opponents that we play early in the season by doing them in the spring game.”
Saban welcomes the exposure. He said as much Thursday, even listing ESPN’s broadcast team. It’s the nature of what that afternoon 11 years ago manifested.
A steak dinner awaits the winning team. Losers eat pork and beans. Saban, the self-appointed commissioner, can “manipulate my way to whichever side of the room I like,” an ode to his true attitude toward what the scoreboard reads.
“I’ve been coaching for a long time,” Saban said. “I can’t tell you who won last year’s spring game, I really don’t ever remember losing one, so if the goal of spring practice is to play better in the season, why would we do anything that would enhance our opponents’ ability to prepare for us?”