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Nick Saban says face coverings are hindering his ability to yell during practice

By DAVID PASCHALL | Chattanooga Times/Free Press, Tenn. | Published: August 26, 2020

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CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (Tribune News Service) — Alabama football coach Nick Saban is heading his 14th preseason camp in Tuscaloosa and his first with a mask due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The face covering has affected his ability to chew, and that has nothing to do with food or gum. It has everything to do with getting his point across.

"This thing around my neck — when I wear it up, I can't seem to get the same emphasis that I would like sometimes," Saban said this week during a Zoom meeting, "and I look like Jesse James robbing a bank. I can't sort of get onto people like I like to. It muffles the sound a little bit."

The Crimson Tide are in their second week of preseason practices and will scrimmage for the first time Saturday.

Alabama's 11-2 record last season amazingly was its worst since 2010, when the Crimson Tide finished 10-3. Last year's team lost starting inside linebackers Dylan Moses and Joshua McMillon to season-ending injuries in August, and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa went down with a hip dislocation in the 10th game at Mississippi State.

Losses to LSU (46-41) and Auburn (48-45) kept Alabama from a sixth consecutive trip to the College Football Playoff, but the Crimson Tide finished their season with a 35-16 downing of Michigan in the Citrus Bowl.

"I'm not pleased with the way we played last year," Saban said. "Yeah, we had a lot of adversity as a team and lost some good players with injuries, but there were other opportunities for other players to step up and be able to play and play with discipline and give better effort. I did not think that last year's team reflected the culture of what we're trying to develop here and has made this program be as successful over time that it has been.

"There is no question we are trying to emphasize that fact that we re-establish that culture, and it comes from the buy-in of every player and to believe and trust in the things we ask them to do."

Alabama tried to reclaim that culture in spring practice but never held the first workout due to the coronavirus. The recent return of students to the Tuscaloosa campus has resulted in a significant spike that has led to a two-week shutdown of bars and could jeopardize in-person classes this semester, but Saban doesn't view practice time any differently.

"We still do the same footwork drills," he said. "Receivers still run the same routes. Quarterbacks have the same reads. Offensive linemen have to block, and defensive players have to tackle. Everybody has a key read and has to look at the right thing, so when we're out on the field, everybody is focused on, 'What do I have to do to be a good football player?'

"The wearing of the mask and staying apart when you're not in there is different, but when you're in there playing and it's your turn and your rep, we expect you to be 100% focused on doing your job and doing it the right way."

Only when a chewing is needed does Saban notice something drastically different, and that element isn't going away. The Southeastern Conference announced earlier this month that all coaches and personnel staff must wear masks on the sidelines throughout the league's 10-game season.

"When we need to get someone's attention, we have to come out of bank-robber mode," he said.

dpaschall@timesfreepress.com

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