It took about two weeks of preseason camp and his team's second full-scale intrasquad scrimmage for Nick Saban to hearken back to “rat poison” and remind players, media and everyone else that Alabama football under Saban is not a democracy.
Those were Saban's bullet-points Saturday evening after the preseason No. 1-ranked and defending College Football Playoffs champion Tide concluded their work.
“We made progress,” Saban said. “I think the big thing is [to ask] how do we look at this moving forward?. I think players have to understand it's not just about what you do in the game. It's how you prepare for the game, how you practice every day. It's not just … getting it right. It's doing it so many times that you can't get it wrong. I think that's the time of year that it is. Camp has been tough, even though we started school Wednesday, I still look at the first two weeks pretty much as camp practices.
“Basically, I think the biggest thing we have to deal with with our guys is you have anxiety that these players have. First of all, they read what you guys write. They read that they're supposed to be in the playoffs. They read that they're No. 1. They read all these things that I've referred to as rat poison before. So that creates a lot of anxiety. Everybody thinks that they have to elevate their games. So you got that going on with the older guys, which I'm trying to convince them hey man we just gotta play our game.”
Saban said it's on his shoulders and those of his coaches to ease players' anxieties; to keep them focused on the process and the system within rather than outside factors. He brought up the talk that Ernie Johnson delivered the two less than two weeks ago.
“Ernie Johnson made an interesting point when he talked to the team,” Saban said. “Do you say I got to do this? Or do you say I get to do this? We get to play. We get the challenges of the season. We get the opportunity to play some great football teams, some on the road and some at home.
“We get to do these things.”
Saban then used a depth-chart question – specifically about junior tight end Jahleel Billingsley – to reinforce his ideology for Tide football.
“Well, that's up to him. That's not up to me,” Saban said of Billingsley's place in the pecking order. “He knows what he's supposed to do in practice. He knows what he's supposed to do.
“You know, this is not a democracy. Everybody doesn't get to do what they want to do. Everybody doesn't get to do what they feel like doing. You've got to buy in and do what you're supposed to do to be a part of the team and do the things you need to do in practice, every day. That's a sense of urgency, play fast, execute, do your job.”
Saban also hammered home the point that Alabama's practice are so heavily attended by professional scouts that Crimson Tide players can begin laying the foundation for a potential professional career long before gameday.
“It's a privilege for everybody to go out there and create value for yourself,” Saban said. “We have (NFL) scouts at practice every day. Everybody thinks it's just about playing in the game. It's not just about playing in the game. They watch practice film, they watch guys every day.
“You guys on ESPN, you evaluate what happens in the game but they evaluate what happens every day. So what are you doing every day to create any value for yourself? But you have to create value for yourself so that your teammates and everybody gets confidence in you so that you have their confidence when you go out there and play. That's up to every player on the team. I don't make that decision for everybody on the team. I try to get them to do it. I try to point out the importance of doing it, but it's up to them to do it. Maybe that's not my question to answer.”