TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Read any magazine, Web site or message board and Alabama’s hope of a national title rests on its experienced defense.
Tide coach Nick Saban was quick to challenge the highly-touted group in Wednesday’s news conference. Allowing 31 points in consecutive losses to Florida and Utah in the SEC Championship and Sugar Bowl left the coach less than thrilled with the unit.
“Those guys have a lot to prove and a lot to re-establish in terms of how good they are and what they want to do,” Saban said.
The “red-area” inside the Tide 20-yard-line was the first example the third-year coach listed as failing in the final two games of the 2008 season. Of the nine drives the Gators and Utes took inside the Alabama 20, seven turned into points after holding the first 12 opponents without points 40 percent of the time.
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Going from a plus-13 turnover ratio in the regular season to a negative-4 in the losses also irked Saban.
“We have issues and we need to resolve those issues if we are going to become a better team,” he said.
Ÿ The weight of nose guard Terrence Cody has been an issue since he rumbled into Tuscaloosa last year. At 400-plus pounds, he earned every bit of the “Mount Cody” nickname.
Now with preseason hype and All-American talk, the former junior college goliath is making strides to be the every-down player who he wasn’t in 2008. But he’s not all the way there yet.
“If we had a game right now, we wouldn’t put him in at third down,” Saban said. “But he made some progress.”
The roster distributed at Wednesday’s news conference listed Cody at 6-foot-5, 354 pounds 11 pounds lighter than the weight listed on the roster appearing on the team’s official Web site.
“Has he reached all the goals that we’ve kind of, sort of tried to establish for him? He’s come close,” Saban said. “And we want to continue to help him throughout camp to help him so he might have the opportunity to achieve those goals.”
Ÿ There are always several aspects of a team needing extra attention entering preseason practice. Besides the late-season defensive slip, Saban listed a few of his areas of concern for this group Wednesday.
“Obviously, we want to create more depth in the offensive line,” he said. “We want to have a backup quarterback who is an effective player. If we had another go-to guy at receiver, that would make us a better team. You are always concerned about the execution at the quarterback position.”
Ÿ Sophomore running back Mark Ingram was named one of 45candidates for the 2009 Doak Walker Award. The honor is awarded annually to the nation’s top running back in memory of the SMU legend.
As a freshman, Ingram rushed 143 times for 728 yards and a team-high 12 touchdowns.
Alex Avila became the fifth member of the 2006 Crimson Tide SEC championship-winning team to reach the Major Leagues when he was called up Tuesday.
The catcher was promoted from the Class Double-A Erie (Penn.) Seawolves to the Detroit Tigers following Tuesday night’s home game. In 92 games this season, he was batting .266 with 12 home runs and 55 RBI to be named an Eastern League All-Star.
Avila is expected to start Thursday night’s game with Baltimore in Detroit’s Comerica Park.
Avila’s college teammates who previously made it the big leagues include David Robertson (Yankees pitcher), Tommy Hunter (Rangers pitcher), Wade LeBlanc (Padres pitcher) and Matt Downs (Giants second baseman).