Guerry Clegg

Is there such a thing as too much football? Nope. Welcome to spring practice

Alabama football coach Nick Saban talks with the media at Alabama’s NFL Pro Day, Tuesday, March 19, 2019, in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Alabama football coach Nick Saban talks with the media at Alabama’s NFL Pro Day, Tuesday, March 19, 2019, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. AP

It’s late March. Winter is officially over, even if it won’t go down without a fight. College basketball has center stage. Major league baseball spring training is winding down.

And you know what that means in these parts.

March Madness? Guess again.

MLB Opening Day? Steee-rike two.

It’s spring football, baby!

Never mind that the season is still five months away, or that this is just glorified practice, or that many freshmen who will make an impact this fall are still in high school, or that some players will grow disillusioned with their place on the depth chart and will transfer before August.

Details. Mere details.

In our part of the world, college football is royalty. And just as many around the world are obsessed with the latest royal baby bump and Meghan Markle’s choice of maternity clothes, there are plenty of folk around here more than just a bit curious to see how the Auburn quarterback competition will shake out.

Need proof?

On Thursday, AL.com posted an article about Auburn football coach Gus Malzahn becoming a sympathetic figure after surviving a chaotic December in which rumors were swirling that the school was negotiating his buyout. That article has received 404 comments as I’m writing this.

The same day, AL.com posted seven — SEVEN — articles related to the Tigers’ first-round win over New Mexico State in the NCAA men’s basketball that garnered 396 comments.

So as rumors swirl in Tuscaloosa about Alabama negotiating head basketball coach Avery Johnson’s buyout, it’s fair to say there’s much more concern among Tide fans about how the quarterback depth chart is shaping up behind Tua Tagovailoa.

Well, there was one article related to Bama basketball that drew more than 600 comments. It was an article asking why Tide hoops and football can’t be successful at the same time. This was one of the posts:

“How about some football articles on the new recruits. Position battles. Etc etc.”

Alabama, Georgia and Auburn will easily draw 250,000 fans, collectively to their spring football games next month.

These are the days in which championships teams are built. It’s not so much about any individual position competition, but more about developing the daily habits that lead to success.

“Players have to understand that you have to keep from getting beat before you can win,” said Alabama coach Nick Saban. “In other words, you can’t give the other team — because of your mental errors or lack of focus or discipline or ability to execute — opportunities. It’s like giving people extra outs in baseball. Eventually somebody is going to beat you. The first thing you have to do is go out and execute and do things the right way.”

The key to doing that, according to Saban, is developing leadership. He structures practice to pair older players with younger ones.

“Leadership is something we’re trying to emphasize,” Saban said. “I think having people on the team and peers on the team that can really reinforce the principles and values of the program and organization are really beneficial to developing the kind of team chemistry that we need to have to be successful. All the good teams we’ve had around here that have won championships, we’ve had the kind of leadership that helped people sustain through the tough times. They demanded that everyone sort of adhere to the standard. It wasn’t just the coaches preaching that.”

Talent matters, of course. But talent alone is not enough. Auburn lost five games last season: LSU, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. The Tigers probably weren’t good enough to win on the road against Georgia and Alabama. But those first three losses, to LSU and Tennessee at home, were the result of a team that under-achieved. Hence the rumors of Malzahn’s departure.

Tigers defensive back Jeremiah Dinson said that underachievement serves as daily motivation.

“We’ve got unfinished business,” Dinson said. “I could tell you were going to do this, and win this, but we just have to win today — day by day. Just be where your feet are at. That’s what I kind of tell the guys today, ‘Just be where your feet are at and don’t worry about the season.’ That’s seven or eight months away. We don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Maybe we don’t know the outcome of what will happen this fall. But we do know that it will be the result of the work put in every day between now and then.

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