TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — On Thursday, Nick Saban said Alabama will be without a scholarship receiver for the upcoming season as rising senior Thaiu Jones Bell has an unspecified medical issue and is taking a medical redshirt. Additionally, sophomore running back Jamarion Miller has a quad injury and will be held out for a few days. Otherwise, the entire 2023 roster was present and active for the first day of preseason camp.
Camp technically began Wednesday when players reported and participated in meetings. During a team session, Saban showed the team clips of good plays made in crunch time of close games that led to wins and bad plays that led to losses. The message: It’s unknown when plays that define games will arise, so it’s important to execute regardless of the circumstances. Also, that’s something to embrace and not fear.
He also re-emphasized a message from his time at SEC media days about having the proper mindset and understanding that talent is just one part of the equation for a successful team.
“You want to have the right mindset to go with that talent,” Saban said. “Which means you have resiliency, work ethic, perseverance, you can overcome adversity and are going to pay attention to detail and do the little things right, so that you can execute at a high level all the time.”
Here’s what else you need to know from Saban’s introductory preseason camp news conference:
QB cake is still baking, update on Buchner
The central question surrounding Alabama’s camp is the quarterback competition between Jalen Milroe, Ty Simpson and Tyler Buchner. Saban addressed the situation early on and provided a Day 1 update of where things stand.
“Everybody’s getting reps at that position, (and) somebody’s got to take the bull by the horns,” Saban said. “Somebody’s got to separate themselves, and when that happens, we’ll tell you. When we take the cake out of the oven, we’ll tell you. Until then, there’s really nothing to talk about.”
Saban’s expectation for the quarterbacks is to play the position like it belongs to them, to focus on competing and not looking over their shoulder at their fellow competitors. Whoever can do that with the most consistency and efficiency will win the job.
When asked about Buchner, Saban said there’s still an adjustment process taking place, but the transfer from Notre Dame is in the top group with returners Milroe and Simpson.
“I still think that he’s probably getting comfortable with the system,” Saban said. “There’s some new terminology in it, and I think he’s probably still getting comfortable with the players around him because the other guys have been with those guys a little more. But I do think there’s really good competition at the position.”
Alabama’s priority this offseason has been finding the right mindset
Transfers are making good, early impressions
Alabama welcomed several new players via the transfer portal during the spring and summer window. Saban provided thoughts on several of them:
On tight end CJ Dippre: “CJ has been a really good addition to that group. He’s got maturity. He’s got experience. He’s got size. He’s got good hands. He’s pretty good in the passing game. He’s a pretty decent blocker.”
On defensive backs Trey Amos and Jaylen Key: “I think we needed a couple of versatile guys in the secondary. I like (Amos and Key). Jaylen is learning the system, but he is an instinctive player. I think he can play in the deep part of the field, and I think he can play in the box. I think he’s gonna be a guy that can really help us and contribute. I’m not sure exactly what role yet. We’re moving a lot of guys around to different positions, but we’re trying to find the best five guys to sort of play the best spots in the back end.”
On wide receiver Malik Benson and linebacker Justin Jefferson: “I think both guys are developing nicely, but I think the biggest issue with most guys is understanding what to do so they can go to play fast all the time. I think there’s still a little apprehension, Malik is probably a little further along because at least on offense you know what you’re supposed to do. But I think both of those two guys will make contributions.”
5 players, 5 stories to watch as Alabama opens preseason camp
Position battles at RB, LB are competitive
It’s good news for Alabama that linebackers Deontae Lawson and Dallas Turner were active on the first day of camp after missing spring practice. Their absence created opportunities for others, and Saban’s bullish on the potential of the inside and outside positions.
“(Lawson’s) got leadership, he’s got a good understanding of the defense,” Saban said. “Jihaad Campbell has made really good progress. We’ve got lots of competition at the position. I’m pleased with the way these guys are progressing. They’ve made a tremendous amount of progress. We’ve had a lot of guys out in the spring — both outside backers, one inside backer — so it gave guys a lot of opportunity to get a lot of reps there. We’ve got those guys back, we’ve got a little bit of leadership, and I like the experience that we have in the group.”
But no position garnered more praise from Saban than the running backs, an expected position of strength on the team. Miller’s injury is a minor setback, and when he returns, he’ll compete in a current four-man battle for touches this season. As it stands, it’s perhaps the deepest position on Alabama’s team. Saban noted that true freshman and summer enrollee Richard Young is “a little behind from a learning standpoint” as the newest addition to the room.
“I actually think there’s four guys in the running back room that have really done a good job.” Saban said. “Jase (McClellan) has been a really good leader, Roydell (Williams) has always set a really good example. The two young players, Justice (Haynes) and (Miller), have done really, really well, too.
“I like all those guys. I think they all have great attitudes, and I think that’s one of the strongest positions from a depth standpoint on our team.”
(Photo: Matthew Maxey / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)