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April 14, 2012

HURT: It's only A-Day, but Tide team is loaded with talent

Quarterback AJ McCarron called the entire Crimson team up around him in the University of Alabama home locker room at Bryant-Denny Stadium before they took the field for the A-Day Game on Saturday.

"OK, this is the first day to show the world what we've got," McCarron said. "'Greatness' on three."

The team responded in unison - in the locker room. On the field, well, it was A-Day, an afternoon that isn't really designed for greatness to flourish. The Crimson Tide did pretty well in some areas, and needs work in others. But that is true everywhere in mid-April.

Six media members, including me, got to hear McCarron's pregame speech as "guest coaches" for the event. The atmosphere in the locker room was interesting, although it probably wasn't at half the intensity level of a normal game and was maybe at 10 percent of BCS Championship pitch, even after Nick Saban told the players that this was their "last chance to be evaluated until August."

It was, after all, A-Day and even the ultra-competing Saban had to temper his pregame talk with "remember we're a team, so go out there and play with discipline and show respect." Not exactly 'Win One For The Gipper,' but it was A-Day.

As media coaches, we didn't get to give pregame speeches, or call any plays, as much as I would like to take credit for McCarron's 47-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Bell on a well-executed flea flicker. We did have fairly free access to the pregame, halftime and postgame locker room, and we were allowed to roam the sidelines pretty freely. So, for instance, when Cody Mandell - one of the bright spots of the game, and the player I would have chosen for MVP had freshman T.J. Yeldon not shined so brightly - hammered a 66-yard punt for a touchback, I got to hear strength coach Scott Cochran ask Mandell "Why wasn't that out inside the 10?" That's nothing if not attention to detail.

From field level, Yeldon's strength and speed were impressive. The sheer size of offensive linemen D.J. Fluker and Cyrus Kouandjio - who towered over at least one current NFL lineman in attendance - was equally noticeable.

Christion Jones' second quarter touchdown catch was impressive from any angle. It wasn't a great day for the Crimson team otherwise - for the second time in my two A-Day coaching stints, I will be eating beans, not steak.

McCarron threw three interceptions and there was also a fumble the White team's Vinnie Sunseri returned for a touchdown and the phrase "you can't beat a good team with the Whites with four turnovers" popped in my head, indicating even my brief exposure to coaching had made me start thinking in Coachspeak.

So I resigned the commission, but not before getting to hear Saban deliver the postgame address to the combined teams, perhaps the last time he'll speak to the fully assembled squad for three months or so.

"We have to show the desire to have consistency of effort," Saban said. "It doesn't just happen by accident. Everybody controls their own decision. It isn't the coach. It's you."

He also indicated some fashion preferences, or rather non-preferences, and without giving away any tips before the Saban Collection hits the runway, don't expect to see much in the way of baggy pants or earrings. It wasn't a dictum, just a strong suggestion that "someone else might play" ahead of the non-conformist, a powerful motivating tool that a coach with a loaded roster has at his disposal.

Without that uniform commitment to excellence, Saban said, "you can't have team chemistry. Because high achievers hate mediocre people and mediocre people hate high achievers."

Which will Alabama be in 2012? The tendency has been towards high achievement, and there is ample talent on hand. But things aren't certain yet - because it was only A-Day.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.

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