The Alabama football program opens the 2019 season with a bit of an identity crisis. Or that’s what some think.
Junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa posed the question when speaking with media.
“Who is Alabama this year?” the Heisman Trophy hopeful asked.
The Crimson Tide isn’t the top-ranked team in the country and it isn’t the defending national champion. Those distinctions belong to coach Dabo Swinney and his Clemson team, due in no small part to his Tigers’ completion of an undefeated season with a 44-16 victory over Alabama for the national championship.
That outcome left some fans wondering about the program that won five of the past 10 national titles and claims 17 crowns overall. Nick Saban talked about identity during his press conference before the season opener at 2:30 p.m. Saturday against Duke in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Clearly, identity has been a key talking point for Saban.
“I can sit and speculate 100 different ways on where our team is, but you never know where your team is, and all these areas, until you actually go out and play,” he said. “This is an opportunity for us to establish an identity as a team. We always kind of take pride in our teams playing with class here. That starts with the kind of discipline that you play with. And that’s something that we want to certainly continue to always establish with our players so that they represent themselves on the program, the university and the first-class way.”
Part of Alabama’s initial identity will include youth as four freshmen are atop the depth chart released Aug. 26. Cameron Latu starts at tight end, Emil Ekiyor Jr. at left guard, D.J. Dale at nose tackle and Will Reichard at kicker.
Another part of Alabama’s identity will be on offense. Steve Sarkisian, the offensive coordinator, said there’s a misconception that the Tide is going to become a drop-back passing team, abandoning the run-pass option attack that produced spectacular passing plays.
That, he said, is not correct.
“We’re trying to add to an offense that was very prolific a year ago, and how can we be even more prolific and how can we stay ahead of defenses and what they’re trying to stop.”
Play-action passing is “a quarterback’s best friend,” Sarkisian said. “Defenses are trying to stop the run and now you can create throwing lanes down the field for explosive plays.
“The game of football is ultimately about being physical up front, being able to run the football, taking care of the football and scoring when you have opportunities to score,” he said. “Those things will never change.”
Tagovailoa said he will continue to be opportunistic.
“If there are shots I’m able to take downfield, even if it’s on the first play, don’t expect me not to take it,” he said. “I’m gonna take it.”
The offensive coordinator said his starting signal-caller has “really bought in” to making full-field reads of defenses.
“We really felt if we can continue to grow in that area of full-progression reads, our feeling is that the more things we do well, the harder you are to defend,” Sarkisian said. “We felt like that was an area we could really improve in.
“(Tua’s) shown drastic improvement,” the coordinator continued. “I think the receivers see it as well.”
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