Alabama Football: Youth and rules changes could mean less prepared Tide in Sept.

Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports /

Alabama Football Head Coach Nick Saban was clear this week when he said, the 2021 Crimson Tide will be a “lot younger” than last season’s National Champions. He quickly added the 2021 roster will be a “talented group” of players. How quickly the young talent can be developed could be a factor in early games.

The challenge of a young roster does not mean the Miami Hurricanes or Florida Gators have good chances to upset the Crimson Tide in two of the first three September games. It could mean young players will need more time to develop this fall than in recent seasons.

Why might they need more time? On May 19, the NCAA is expected to approve new fall camp rules. The new NCAA fall camp rules are sometimes referred to as the 9-8-8 plan. The total of 25 practice days allowed for fall camp will not change, but the structure is expected to significantly change. Nine days players could work in helmets only. Eight days they will be able to work in helmets and pads but tackling will not be allowed to take a player to the ground. Full contact work will be restricted to eight days of fall camp and that includes fall camp scrimmages.

Less Fall Camp Contact for Alabama Football

The purpose of the expected changes is to reduce the number of concussions and other head injuries. Many coaches, while in support of reducing head injuries, are concerned the change is so drastic, some players will not be fully prepared for game action when the season begins. Some of them argue the changes should be phased in over time, allowing the efficacy of the restrictions to be measured. Todd Berry of the American Football Coaches Association stated,

"We’re fearful if we go too far in one direction we’d have a lot of injuries in that first game. There is a process, a teaching progression to get players to learn how to control their bodies."

Such unintended consequences will be difficult to measure. What may be immediately obvious in early games is that players, particularly, younger, less experienced players will not perform at a high level.

As Nick Saban said, Alabama Football has a big group of young players. The 2021 team will have 27 freshmen, plus a new JUCO player and at least one transfer trying to learn how to play as the Crimson Tide coaches intend. The Alabama Football roster also has 24 sophomores and many of them have little game experience.

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Throughout college football, players are still trying to learn how to tackle without targeting violations. Missed tackles may be a price all teams have to pay. That tradeoff is worth it for reducing head injuries – but not if other injuries become more frequent as Berry fears.