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December 19, 2013

Bowl practices valuable to young players

The University of Alabama football program opened fall camp Aug. 2, the first of 28 practices during before opening the season and practicing five days a week. All told, Crimson Tide players practiced upwards of 80 times during the 2013 season.

So how much more beneficial are the 15 or so more practices a team gets when it qualifies for a bowl game?

They're invaluable, according to UA coach Nick Saban.

"We have an opportunity for a lot of young players to sort of re-learn," Saban said. "It's very difficult for young players to learn during the fall because you're changing all the time, game plans and so forth. But to go back and fundamentally re-teach things that you did in fall camp and really focus on the little things that guys need to do to be successful players and try to get them to develop better habits, which are sometimes more difficult to do during the season."

NCAA rules do not restrict the number of practices a program can use during bowl preparation, however the norm is 14-15.

As Saban alluded to, the biggest beneficiaries during that time are younger players, those down a bit on the depth chart and stuck behind veterans. They don't see as many repetitions or one-on-one attention from position coaches during the regular season. The two weeks or so of bowl preparation practices are a sort of head start towards 2014 spring practice.

Players such as Eddie Jackson or Maurice Smith, who played some in 2013 but may be tasked with broader roles in 2014. Perfecting techniques is tops on the agenda, but there's also a chance for student-athletes to show coaches how far they've come.

"We basically do a lot of fundamental things that give us a chance to show the coaches what we can do and stuff like that in terms of helping the team out," senior wide receiver Kevin Norwood said. "I kept getting that opportunity and coach kept believing in me. I loved the bowl practices. It gave me an opportunity to showcase my talent. And that's what this is doing for the younger guys too. And the upper guys have to focus on finishing, pretty much."

Quarterback is the position most will watch heading into the offseason with Alabama's starting role up for grabs for the first time since 2011. With five quarterbacks on the roster, including Blake Sims, Alec Morris, Luke Del Rio, Cooper Bateman and Parker McLeod, the extra work during bowl practices could help one guy separate himself from the others.

"I think it's a tremendous benefit to all players, but especially to young players," Saban said. "For the seniors, it gives them an opportunity to finish their career here the right way. And to everybody else who's coming back on the team, they have a chance to make an impression for themselves as well as the kind of football team we might have next year."

Reach Aaron Suttles at aaron@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0229.


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