With just a week before opening the season against San Jose State, all of the experimenting and tweaking is about to end.
And Saban isn’t downplaying how important the decisions are.
“I think this is kind of judgment day for us,” he said Thursday. “We have to at least make some kind of determinations now, and we haven’t done that yet, as to who we want to coach, what we want to do. Are we going to play guys? Are we not going to play them? Are they going to get ready to play? Because you can’t get enough reps in practice to get everybody ready to play.
“It’s a little bit D-Day — judgment day.”
That means a lot for a few players who’ve been shuffled in and out of different jobs this August.
For Athens product Alfred McCullough, that appears to mean he’ll be going back to the second team for now. He’d been working with the first team at right tackle earlier in the week, but D.J. Fluker was back in that spot in Thursday’s practice. Saban said the offensive line trials were over without going into specifics, and he had previously called McCullough the Tide’s third best tackle.
The defense faces the most critical decisions in the final week of preparation.
Linebackers and the secondary still have many variables and possible personnel combinations to determine.
Just about every defensive back has returned to full practice speed after an injury outbreak two weeks ago, but the affects are still being felt.
“The thing that has been most difficult through this camp is when you have a new group and you have a lot of guys that haven’t played, and really that gets some continuity in practice about guys playing together,” Saban said. “We have continually had two or three guys out and haven’t been able to do that. Saying all that, I’m really pleased with the progress that we’ve made.”
Cornerbacks DeMarcus Milliner and DeQuan Menzie worked back into the practice rotations this week after going down with sprains in the Aug. 14 scrimmage. And with formations calling for as many as six defensive backs playing at one time, having top guys sidelined certainly took valuable time away from developing the on-field chemistry with an already young group.
The experimentation has been similar among linebackers, although without the same injury problem. The multiple looks and personnel packages makes it hard to even indentify starters since last year’s Tide defense used its base formation less than half the time.
For linebacker Chris Jordan, the movement in his unit left him on the second team backing up Dont’a Hightower at the inside linebacker position known as the “Mike.” But Hightower regularly moves to an outside linebacker position to rush the passer in certain situations, so that pushes Jordan back to the top group — at least as of Thursday.
It’s all part of the preseason routine, Jordan said.
“We don’t know, but I think Coach Saban does it just to let you know that your position is not locked in,” he said. “That way, everyone continues to work hard and push yourself to get better.”
By Monday, there should be more clarity. Saban typically releases a depth chart at the beginning of the first game week, although it’s known to have several “ors” placed between names.
With the kickers and punters, Saban chuckled when talking about those decisions.
“I might make that decision in pregame,” he said. “See who’s hot.”
Michael Casagrande covers University of Alabama sports for The Star.