Nick Saban: Tua Tagovailoa's rehab "Right on schedule"

Alabama coach touched on numerous subjects during press conference at College Football Awards in Atlanta

As part of the Home Depot College Football Award Show, University of Alabama coach Nick Saban gave an update on sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa following his ankle surgery and touched upon some other things.

Here's some of what he said Thursday evening:

"It's certainly an honor and a privilege for our team, our players, our coaches, the people involved in our organization to be involved in the College Football Playoff this year. I'd first of all like to congratulate the coaches here with me for the great team and the great year that their teams were able to have.

We certainly have a tremendous challenge in playing Coach Riley and the Oklahoma Sooners, who have a great tradition and a great program, and certainly one of the most prolific offensive teams that I've seen in recent times, and their defense has certainly made a lot of plays in critical times in the games that have helped them win some close ones.

This is a tremendous privilege. We've been here before, and this is one of the great venues in sports to be a part of, and we feel very proud to be here with some other very, very good programs that have great traditions."

Q. Coach Saban, you seemingly every offseason have to replace coaches, and you've seemed to have success being able to bring in new coaches and have them fit in to what you guys try to do inside the building. Why do you think that is?

NICK SABAN: Well, we've been very fortunate to have some outstanding assistant coaches, and they've done a really good job for us, and I think because of the success that we've been able to sustain, obviously they work hard, as I worked hard when I was an assistant, so you could have the next opportunity, and we're certainly always happy for them, that they have the opportunities to go on and be head coaches.

I think that you love continuity on your staff, but I always look at this as a challenge and an opportunity to add new energy, new enthusiasm, new ideas to your staff. We don't change our program. We don't hire people to come in and be independent contractors and do what they want to do. They sort of have to buy into what we do, but the new ideas, the new energy and enthusiasm that they bring is always very helpful to improving our program.

We're happy for those that get opportunities. We're happy to give opportunities to other people who can make a positive contribution to our program.

Q. Coach Saban, with your offensive coordinator heading to Maryland at the end of this year, how significant of a role did he play in helping develop an offensive scheme for Tua to thrive in?

NICK SABAN: Well, I think the thing that our offensive staff did, and Mike made a great contribution to that, is we always try to adapt to what our players can do, and I think that always starts with the quarterback, but we said in the beginning of the season this year that we're going to have a different kind of team on offense because we have really good skill players, we've got good runners, and we've got a couple quarterbacks who can operate the way our guys have in the system that we have.

I think all of our coaches contributed to it, but I think Mike did a really good job of organizing that, and the players responded well to it, and we made a lot of explosive plays. I'm sure Mike would tell you that we'd like to be more consistent at times, as all coaches would say, but we feel really pleased with what we were able to accomplish offensively, and Tua did a great job, as did Jalen, I think, improved dramatically this year, as well, so I think our entire staff did a really phenomenal job.

Q: What is the X factor you've seen in your opponent?

LINCOLN RILEY: Yeah, tough to narrow it down to one when you start to study Alabama and all they do well. The thing I've seen from afar, and I don't want to act like an I'm expert on their program, I'm not in those walls day-to-day, but you see the unselfishness in that program. The most obvious notable examples is Jalen Hurts because we need more guys like him. So really impressed with how their whole program managed great players at different positions.

And then as a team the obvious thing would be to say that Alabama has certainly been more explosive offensively than they've been in a while, and they've been good offensively, no question. But this group has been different, and they're certainly fantastic defensively like they've been forever. A great challenge, but could not be more impressed with Jalen Hurts, how he handled that just from afar. Big fan of that kid and how that entire situation was managed.

NICK SABAN: Well, I think that Oklahoma is a team that certainly knows how to win. They've had some great games this year, high-scoring games where their defense has come through when they've needed to, but I do think this is one of the most dynamic teams that I've seen for a long, long time in terms of the way they play offense. I think Lincoln does a great job with their players. They've got some really explosive players. The quarterback is an explosive player. They can run the ball. They have great balance. I don't know that there's one particular thing, other than I think their players know how to win, and they've won a lot of close games, and they've come from behind in games.

This is a team that is as explosive as any that I've ever seen, and it's not -- I mean, it's designed that way. It's not like -- and I think it's very difficult to stop a team like that. And I think that Coach Riley does a great job, and their players believe in it and execute it extremely well.

Q. Nick, I know Sunday on the teleconference you said it would be a couple weeks for Tua. Has that timeline changed, and how is he feeling?

NICK SABAN: I think Tua is right on schedule. The procedure they did usually takes two weeks for a guy to be able to have any explosive movement, and then they go from there. So we'll see how he progresses from there. But we're pleased with the progress that he's made to this point.

Q. Dabo has said that there's Alabama and then the rest of y'all, and he's just glad to be on the rest of y'all. They've been here four years in a row now. Just your thoughts on the program and what he's done at Clemson?

NICK SABAN: Well, I think Clemson has got an outstanding program, an outstanding team. I think Dabo does a really, really good job on a consistent basis. They have good players, but their players really play well. They're well-coached. They don't make a lot of mistakes. They execute well. It's a difficult preparation when you have to play against them. And I think they've been one of the most consistent, dominant teams throughout this entire season.

You know, I always say there's a lot of books written about how to be successful. There's not many written on how to stay successful. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the fact that they've been able to do it on a consistent basis and be here over and over and over and over and play at that high level all the time and not have any complacency in the program, and their players are continuing to try to play to a high level and be the best players that they can be, and I think that's a tribute to his coaches and their staff and himself.

Q. Coach Saban, you guys have two members on the Outland watch list this year, two finalists. Can you talk about how Quinnen has kind of developed this year into his role as a bench player last year to being one of the most prolific defensive lineman, and a little bit about Jonah, how he's been a leader since day one?

NICK SABAN: I think both those guys are hard workers, great competitors. They really want to be the best that they can be. I don't think they're motivated by just winning or losing. I think they really legitimately are perfectionists in terms of how they go about their work every day and how they want to improve. I think Q probably has made as much progress as any player in our program because of his work ethic and the things that he's done to try to improve himself. He was an undersized guy that worked hard to get bigger and stronger. Always was a good athlete and had good quickness. Jonah has started every game I think since he's been there with us, and he's a bright guy and really pays attention to detail, and it shows in his play because he's a very, very consistent performer.

I don't ever remember having two guys up for the same award. You hate to see your players compete for something, but I think both guys would tell you that if they are fortunate enough to have the success, it would be because they play on a good team and their teammates have supported them and helped them to grow and develop to be where they are, and it would be probably kind of a team award for either one of them if they had success winning.

Q. Obviously the new redshirt rule has been a bit of a game changer this year. I'd just like to know how that has affected each one of your teams and if there's a player or two that you could name that you're redshirting that you think might be able to help you in the playoff.

NICK SABAN: Well, it didn't really change much for us. We always tried to -- we never predetermined redshirting anyone. We want to give everybody an opportunity in our program, and I think after fall camp we used to always have to say, well, we're going to go ahead and play this guy, we may play this guy if we need to play him because he may not play enough to enhance his development, and then there's a group of guys here that probably need to get redshirted.

The fact that you can play guys in four games, I think you still have the same categories, but you have a lot more flexibility in when you have to make those decisions. Other than that, I haven't seen a lot of change. You know, I hope this doesn't become something that players try to utilize to manipulate their career and that they always put the team first in terms of their development and what happens with their future.

Q. Coach Saban, Saturday after the SEC Championship game, you said Georgia was one of the top four teams in the country and then your coaches' poll you voted them fifth. Just curious what went into that change in mind.

NICK SABAN: Well, I do think they're one of the top four teams in the country but I didn't think they were going to get in the playoff with two losses. So I voted the teams that I thought had the best chance to get in, but I do think after playing Georgia they were one of the best four teams in the country.

What this basically indicates is the SEC Championship game was a playoff game. You know, the 1 and 4 team in the country played, and it was a heck of a game, and they played a great game, and they have a great team, and I think they're one of the best four teams in the country, and that's no disrespect to any of the people that are here, but I didn't think they had a chance to get in with two losses.

Q. You're saying that these playoff games aren't necessarily the four best teams?

NICK SABAN: I'm not saying that. I'm just saying -- I'm saying what I said, and I'm not changing what I said. When we played Georgia I thought they were one of the best four teams in the country. That doesn't mean that they're any better than the teams that are here, and I voted for the four teams that are here. Is that correct? Okay.

(Note: Tagovailoa was interviewed on the ESPN broadcast: "I couldn't put a timetable on this. I'm just looking at trying to get better every day, and hopefully, it feels a lot better leading up to the game."

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