Saban spoke to members of the media as part of the second day of SEC Media Days on Thursday in Hoover. After two years as head coach of the Tide, Saban is excited to enter his third season at the Capstone.
“We’ve had an outstanding off season with our team,” Saban said Thursday. “We’ve had a very good summer with our team. But, as you all will try to do after this media day, you will try to predict what’s gonna happen in this season. I wish you well in that. I wish you good luck. Because, you know, it’s very difficult to predict what a bunch of adolescents are going to do, and we have over a hundred of ‘em on our team.
“It’s very difficult sometimes to predict what the few of them you might have at home might do, if you have children. It’s difficult to predict what’s going to happen with any team.
“That’s why we choose to stay focused on the things we need to do to build an outstanding team. The basic process of what is important to any good team.”
The veteran coach is looking for Alabama players to do a couple of things, which will help determine the team’s success this season.
“First thing is, is you have to have togetherness on the team,” Saban said. “You have to have trust and respect for each other and a positive and energy and attitude that’s gonna help support the players on your team so that everybody has the best chance to play their role, do their role well, and be a productive part of the team. This team chemistry and leadership is very, very important.
“I think it’s also important that you establish a work ethic on your team, that your team understands they’re working to dominate the competition. It’s not relative to what they think hard work is; it’s what they need to do to dominate the competition in a very competitive, difficult, tough league, with a very difficult, tough schedule.”
Saban said there are two things that are key to building a successful program.
“One is how you bring players to your team, which you all refer to that as recruiting,” he said. “And the second is how you develop the players on your team. I think that’s critical. It’s going to be critical in the development of players on our team relative to some of the challenges that we have on our team offensively, defensively, and in special teams.”
Alabama will be breaking in a new starting quarterback this season. Greg McElroy will most likely be the guy to replace John Parker Wilson as the Crimson Tide’s signal caller in 2009. The junior has played in eight games in his career at the Capstone and has completed 80 percent of his passes in those contests.
“Greg McElroy has done a nice job of developing,” Saban said. “He’s a good leader. He’s instinctive. Players like him. He makes good decisions. He’s been in the offense for two years. But he does lack experience. He’s only going to get that experience by playing and making plays. With that, he’s going to develop a lot of respect from his teammates.”
Saban said the offensive line would be “critical” to McElroy’s success.
“The offensive line is a critical area for us to develop,” he said. “So we have some young players that need to step up. And how that happens, you know, last year when I stood up here, it was linebacker, a guy like Dont’a Hightower came in and played outstanding football and we became a much better defense because of that. We’re going to have some of those challenges in the offensive line.”
Offensive lineman Mike Johnson said William Vlanchos could be a solid addition to the offensive line this season.
“Our offensive line is working harder this year than any I can remember,” Johnson said. “William Vlachos, he’s in position to take the starting center spot, has taken control this summer and learned the signals and taken the reigns in terms of where he needs to be. In seven-on-seven drills, Greg (McElroy)’s done a good job working with the receivers.”
Alabama’s defense should be a force to be reckoned with in 2009 as the Tide returns nine starters. Saban said it is important the defensive players don’t get complacent.
“The challenge to me on defense is those guys have to take it to the next level,” Saban said. “They can’t be satisfied. You know, it’s kind of human nature that, when you’re satisfied and you’re ranked high in a lot of categories, all that, that maybe you don’t challenge yourself as much. You get a little complacent; you get a little satisfied. That can’t happen.”
Saban is also looking for improvement on special teams in 2009.
“We slipped a little bit, other than our return game last year, punt returns, you know, on special teams,” he said. “We had a lot of young players. We had 14 freshmen letter last year. A lot of them played on special teams. We weren’t as good, I don’t think, on teams themselves, coverage teams. Hopefully that’s an area of our team that we can improve dramatically.”
Alabama returns Javier Arenas on special teams and defense. Linebacker Rolando McClain said Arenas has been a big asset on defense.
“Javier’s scary,” McClain said. “A lot of people look at him as just a great kick returner and a punt returner, but he’s so good on defense. What makes him better is he watches so much film, watching receiver routes and different defenses. I thank him because he takes a lot off me because he’s such a good leader. He pressures those guys in the secondary.”
Alabama opens the season on Sept. 5 when the Crimson Tide takes on Virginia Tech in Atlanta.