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‘Christmas’ arrives for Saban, Tide as camp opens

‘Christmas’ arrives for Saban, Tide as camp opens

Nick Saban has frequently compared the day before training camp opens as an early Christmas Day.

That’s because he and his wife, Terry, distribute funds from their Nick’s Kids Foundation to charitable projects throughout Alabama and the Southeast. During Thursday’s annual giveaway luncheon event at Bryant-Denny Stadium, Nick’s Kids distributed over $500,000 to children’s organizations.

For Alabama fans, today’s start of training camp is a bit like an daftar poker early Christmas. For reporters covering the Crimson Tide, Christmas comes on Saturday, when the Tide’s new coordinators Tosh Lupoi defense and Mike Locksley offense have their only press conference of the season until the bowl game.

So everybody’s in the holiday spirit as August opens. Alabama won its fifth national championship in the past nine years with a heart-stopping overtime victory over Georgia in January.

A number of questions will have to be answered to put this team in position for another playoff berth.

A ton of attention, of course, is on the quarterbacks. Jalen Hurts is 26-2 as a starter, but was benched with Alabama trailing Georgia 13-0 at halftime of the championship game. Tua Tagovailoa came off the bench and led the Tide’s comeback victory.

By acclimation, Tagovailoa gives the team a more balanced attack than Hurts. Hurts doesn’t make mistakes, but his apparent limitations in the passing game became more apparent against good defenses last season.

Saban at SEC Media Days sounded like he was in no hurry to pick a winner in the quarterback derby. He insisted the job is open and that the starter will have to “win the team” by what he does in fall camp.

“I love both guys. They’re both really good competitors,” Saban said in Atlanta last month. “They are really good people. They are good leaders. They both make great contributions to our team. They are very well liked. …

“I think it’s our job to give both players a very fair opportunity to have a chance to win the team at their position. Obviously, both are capable. We’ll create a role for one or both of those guys.”

Quarterback is far from the only concern. As the coach said, both quarterbacks can do the job. Only three starters are back on defense. All five regulars in the secondary – cornerbacks Anthony Averett and Levi Wallace, safeties Hootie Jones and Ronnie Harrison and nickelback Minkah Fitzpatrick – have departed.

Senior inside linebackers Rashaan Evans and Shaun Dion Hamilton graduated. Mack Wilson and Dylan Moses have huge shoes to fill there. No one questions their talent, but there is no substitute for experience.

Up front, starters Raekwon Davis and Isaiah Buggs are back. But the Tide will miss Da’Ron Payne and Da’Shawn Hand.

Both specialists, including punter JK Scott and kicker Andy Pappanastos, have graduated.

There are fewer concerns on offense. The running back corps is deep and experienced, led by Damien Harris, who has rushed for 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons.

Center Bradley Bozeman graduated, but the other four starters are back. Ross Pierschbacher, who has started 42 games at left guard, will slide over to center. Jonah Williams, Matt Womack and Lester Cotton are returning starters. Sophomore Alex Leatherwood should be fighting for a starting spot and there is a lot of depth – albeit it untested – at that position.

Receivers Calvin Ridley, Cam Sims and Robert Foster have moved on, but Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith and Henry Ruggs III had tremendous contributions as freshmen in 2017.

Great expectations: Alabama earned the preseason No. 1 national ranking in the Amway Preseason Coaches Poll released Thursday. The Tide has been ranked in the top three in preseason polls each of the last nine seasons.

Alabama received 61 of a possible 65 first-place votes in the poll. Clemson holds down the No. 2 spot in the preseason rankings while Ohio State, Georgia and Oklahoma check in at spots 3-5, respectively. Auburn is ranked No. 10 in the poll.

The Tide will play three teams in the poll – No. 10 Auburn, No. 18 Mississippi State and No. 25 LSU. Other teams receiving votes in the poll including Tide opponents Texas A&M, Arkansas and Louisville. Alabama and Louisville open the season Sept. 1 in Orlando at 7 p.m.

Watching the Tide: Eleven players are on at least one watch list for 12 college football awards. Running back Damien Harris and defensive lineman Raekwon Davis are both on three of these national lists. Harris is on the Maxwell Award player of the year, Doak Walker Award outstanding running back and Walter Camp player of the year lists. Davis is drawing attention for the Bednarik Award defensive player of the year, the Nagurski Trophy defensive player of the year and the Walter Camp.

Others on watch lists are quarterbacks Hurts Maxwell Award and O’Brien Award for quarterback of the year and Tagovailoa Maxwell; linebacker Anfernee Jennings Butkus Award for linebacker of the year and Bednarik, Mack Wilson Butkus and Bednarik, Dylan Moses Butkus, Jonah Williams Outland Trophy for outstanding interior lineman, Trevon Diggs Paul Hornung Award for most versatile player, Pierschbacher Rimington Trophy for best center and Outland Trophy, and tight end Hale Hentges Mackey Award for outstanding tight end and Wuerffel Trophy for outstanding player in his community.

Fan Day is Saturday: Alabama’s annual Fan Day, which historically has been held on the first Sunday of camp, instead will be this Saturday.

The Tide holds an open practice in Bryant-Denny from 2:30 to 4:30 then holds its annual autograph session on the field beginning around 4:45 p.m.

At 1 p.m., the first 150 fans in line at Gate 25 will receive color-coded wristbands for early entrance to the 45-minute autograph session. Fans getting a wristband will need to report to Gate 25 at 4 p.m. to start lining up.

Fans can enter the stadium starting at 1:30 through gates 9 and 19. Concession stands on the west side will be open.

In case of bad weather, Fan Day will be moved to the Hank Crisp Indoor Facility.

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