Alabama coach wants players to have more time after end of season to make decision
By Marq Burnett
HOOVER, Ala. -- Nick Saban sensed something was off with Alabama's team chemistry at the end of last year.
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Prior to the Crimson Tide's Sugar Bowl loss to Ohio State, Saban said the team's cohesiveness shifted.
"In our experience last year, our team chemistry from the SEC championship game to the playoff game was affected by something," Saban said Wednesday at SEC media days.
Saban alluded to the change being players weighing decisions about their future as it pertained to the NFL draft.
He explained, "I think that to have a December 15th deadline from when a junior can submit for a draft grade and then you get that assessment back sometime right before or right after Christmas, and then you have a playoff game coming up on January 1st or 2nd, and I think it's my obligation as a coach to inform that young man when I get that information because it's his information, it's not my information, to make him aware of that. And we're talking about a young person who has to deal with a lot now. We had six guys in this situation this past year and 11 the year before."
Amari Cooper, T.J. Yeldon and Landon Collins all entered the draft early. Reggie Ragland and Jarran Reed received grades, but decided to stay in school. The name of the sixth player wasn't revealed.
Later during an interview with radio host Paul Finebaum, Saban said he wasn't using it as an excuse as to why the Tide lost to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. He also took full responsibili
ty for the loss. Saban said it was more of a way to spark dialogue about something that could be improved. Saban believes it would be better for both the players and programs if the paperwork wasn't submitted until after the college season.
"We've moved the draft back, we have not move the date that a player has to declare back," Saban said. "Now, those who oppose this type of thinking would say, well, how would that affect recruiting? We used to play bowl games on January 1st. Now the championship game's on January 11th or 12th, and the 15th is still the day that people have to declare for the draft. So I think a week, 10 days would be beneficial, and I think a rule that says you don't get information to players on draft status until after they've completed their college competition would be beneficial."
While Saban said he wasn't using it as an excuse, the players also noticed a difference. Having players leave early for the draft is nothing new for Alabama, but last season it seemed to be a distraction.
"You look at it every year, there are some guys who are thinking about the NFL or whatnot," Tide center Ryan Kelly said. "That's just one of the things you have to do as a football team. That's probably everywhere, just not Alabama. Because we're on such a big stage and we have a target on our back, things like that show sometimes."
Ragland received a "positive feedback" and a second-round grade, but said his intentions were always to stay in school and finish his degree. He sides with Saban when it comes to moving the date. Like Kelly, Ragland noticed something different in the team during bowl preparation.
"Guys probably got distracted by people all in their ear," Ragland said. "I wasn't answering the phone. I was just worrying about playing football. A lot of guys got sidetracked by that. This year coming, we got a bunch of guys that's not worried about the next level, but just worried about right now and that's what's in front of them and playing football."
-- Contact Anniston Star Sports Writer Marq Burnett at mburnett @Marq_Burnett.