Trust the Process: With So Many Young Players, Nick Saban is Emphasizing Player Development

The 15-year coach of the Crimson Tide noted that he is focusing on developing the freshmen and placing a big emphasis on fundamentals this spring
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — To Alabama fans, the phrase 'Trust the Process' has become a mantra very closely associated to the Crimson Tide football program.

Under coach Nick Saban, the expression has come to define the program and the relationship between the coaches and players. During his time at Alabama, Saban has repeatedly proven that his process for developing players and constructing national championship teams is unrivaled to any other.

While for fans that might be easy to understand having been around the program for the decade and a half that Saban has been in Tuscaloosa, the expression might not come as easy to freshmen on the team who are new to the program. Surrounded by talent, these new players have to earn their right to see playing time in their freshman — and even sometimes sophomore — season. When being forced to adjust from starting every game in high school to being on the Crimson Tide's second-team, it oftentimes becomes quite an adjustment for young players.

During Saban's weekly Wednesday press conference, Saban noted that he doesn't discuss the 'Trust the Process' mantra often with players, and instead chooses to focus on their personal development within the program.

"I don't really talk to the players that much about trusting the process," Saban said. "I talk to players about the importance of focusing on development. You might see that as a similar thing or maybe even the same, but I think everybody needs to have the ability to self-assess, to figure out, 'OK, here's where I'm at.' That's the only way you can improve, if you can self-assess. And then the coaches help you define what you need to do to actually improve so that you can become a better player.

"We want everybody to play early. That's our goal."

This year sees 16 freshmen join the Crimson Tide, along with a total of 55 players listed as either sophomores or redshirt-sophomores on Alabama's online roster. With so many young players on the team, Saban has had to focus a lot this season on player development. While this is something that is always a primary focus of his, with so much turnover following last season, it's most definitely a key point this spring practice season.

Saban noted that during his time at Alabama, the team has had its fair share of freshman starters. That being said, it is crucial that he and his staff do not start players that are not fully prepared for their roles come next season.

"We've played a lot of freshmen here," Saban said. "We've had a lot of freshmen start for us and play very well. But at the same time, we have a responsibility and obligation not to put a guy out there if he's not ready to go play with confidence, be confident in what he's doing so he can go play fast and create value for himself.

"So we want players to focus on development not outcomes. Outcomes can be distractions. We want them to focus on what they need to do to get the outcome. And their ability to self-assess helps their learning curve, I think."

The Crimson Tide has now concluded 10 of its 14 spring practices ahead of April 17th's A-Day scrimmage game. Alabama will host one more practice on Friday before its second scrimmage of the spring on Saturday, then will host two more practices on Tuesday and Thursday of next week before Saturday's A-Day.

With so few practices left this spring, Saban said that he is looking for the young players to exhibit more confidence in their roles in Saturday's scrimmage.

"The last two practices I think you see a lot of young guys who were very apprehensive and unsure, uncertain about what they were supposed to do so they didn't play fast in the last scrimmage," Saban said. "I see those guys starting to get a little more confidence, and I think they've learned a lot from the first time in the stadium, first time in the scrimmage first time, you know, being in a live situation in college football for a lot of them so you look for great improvement from the first scrimmage to the second scrimmage. And, you know, certainly that's going to be our goal for this one."

When it comes to trusting the process, Alabama fans and former players quickly fall in line due to Saban's 15 years with the program. For the younger players, though, the time has come for them to learn just exactly what the mantra is all about.

For those freshmen, it all starts with making noticeable improvements between last Friday's and this Saturday's scrimmages.

"We're looking forward to a much better scrimmage," Saban said. "We'll have kind of a, Friday's practice will be sort of polished, not put a lot of stuff in, try to get guys to understand what we're going to do, so that they can go out there and play fast and we can make some improvement as a team."