I was invited to go watch Alabama practice yesterday by Tide assistant coach Jay Valai, and, of course, I jumped at the opportunity.
I took my seat in AT&T Stadium right at 1:45. We were told, "no pictures or videos, please." No problem for me because I wasn't interested in being a tourist but wanted to study from the maestro. I wanted to see the greatest conductor in our sport and his orchestra.
Gameday is where the concert is on display, but practice is where the orchestra creates the music.
Being allowed to observe one of the most dominant dynasties in college football history is a rare opportunity, and I was ready to learn. Yesterday wasn't a spring practice but a shoulder pad session 48 hours before a national semi-final game vs. the Cincinnati Bearkats this Friday.
"Practice is everything." Pete Carroll
It would be impossible for me to go through the entire practice, but here are my SIX TAKE HOMES I WILL MAKE SURE I REMEMBER AS THE OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR FOR THE POTSDAM ROYALS IN THE 2022 SEASON:
I. PRE-PRACTICE - I will do an Elite Coaches' Mastermind session on pre-practice. It is fascinating to me how programs begin their training sessions. This is the time before team flex/warm-up. How teams have their athletes 'get going' matters. Alabama does it this way:
Offense - Team goal-line work. Bama's full offense goes vs. a scout defense, and they walk through goal-line plays. This is outstanding. We all wish we had more time to work goal-line offense. This is a low-contact way to get reps in the most crucial part of the field. Receivers are running about 70%, the Q is throwing at about 70%, but the reps are still valuable. After about eight plays, the Tide went 'river side' and worked a few plays of coming out from the -1 yard line, which we all know is another critical area of the field for execution.
Defense - the defense is split into two groups: the front is working stunts/blitzes, and the secondary is repping pass skel vs. scout receivers. The intensity is low, but the defensive backs get an extra few minutes of 'pattern match' work and see route combinations.
This is a perfect example of elite teaching:
Pre-practice meetings - draw it up on the board in a classroom setting
Full speed (they will have a full speed pass skel session later in practice)
II.THE COACHES COACH SKILL DEVELOPMENT AND TECHNIQUE ONLY. Everything is planned out to the second like I'm sure all Alabama practices are. I have said this statement to the scout team on more than one occasion, "I want to coach the offense right now. I am spending too much time coaching the 'look defense,' and our offense isn't getting better." The Crimson Tide coaches did not do anything except coach the players on technique and skill development. The offensive line coaches (where I focused my attention) did not spend time coaching the 'look' defensive front yesterday. They worked zone and pass pro!
III. EVERYONE KNOWS WHERE TO BE AT ALL TIMES. This is a little redundant from the point above, but it is worth saying. Part of the reason the coaches are not dealing with the logistics of practice and making sure everyone is where they are supposed to be is everyone knows where to be! The 4th-string linebacker has a role and a job. He knows his assignment and where to be to fulfill it. This cannot be understated...this is a big deal. One hundred twenty players, 15 coaches, and all support staff all have a place to be at every minute of the practice, and they are attacking their assignment full speed.
IV. THE TRANSITIONS ARE AMAZINGLY FAST, AND EFFICIENT. Again, this is another testament to two things: immense planning and meeting on every detail of the practice and a systematic routine for Bama's typical training sessions. At one point in practice, the offense was working group on 1/2 the field, and the defense was working on the other 1/2 of the field. The horn blew, and within 60 seconds, it was 11 vs. 11, 'good vs. good' on the 30-yard line going out. I can't understate how impressive this is. There were close to 200 people on the field working various drills, a horn blew, and all knew where to go (quickly) and what to do next. I'm sure this is a routine of going from group sessions to 'good vs. good', but I've been to many practices, and this was the fastest transition I can remember seeing.
V. GOOD VS. GOOD. Skill = Quality Reps + Reps I love this equation. Skill can only be obtained when one gets maximum reps vs. quality competition. Alabama has a ton of 4 and 5-star players on its roster. The 'look' or scout athletes could probably crack the top 25 if they formed their own team, but Coach Saban still sees the value of going best vs the best for 5 minutes. Although they did not tackle to the ground, it was as 'live' as practice can be and keep an emphasis on safety. We went 'good vs. good' anytime we had a training session with shoulder pads at North Forney. We did not care what defense our opponent would play that week, we wanted to go against the best and get quality reps.
VI. CROWD NOISE WAS PUMPED IN DURING TEAM SESSIONS It's all about the details. The artificial crowd noise was LOUD! The offense and defense had to communicate with great intention just like they have to Friday night.
I know you cannot get the full impact of being able to be on the front row for a Nick Saban practice but ask yourself how your team would stack up on these six 'take homes' I shared.
"SUCCESS LEAVES CLUES"
Alabama football isn't elite only because it has amazing talent. The Crimson Tide is a product of elite training sessions that are organized to the second. Every detail matters and every member of the organization is focused, and making beautiful music. The maestro won't accept anything less.