His hands, like the new position he’s learning, are a work in progress. After two seasons at defensive end, the 6-foot-7, 270-pound Fanning practiced with the tight ends and H-backs on Friday.
The Crimson Tide opened preseason practice the same way it ended spring training -- by experimenting.
“We are trying that for five days of practice, and just seeing if he can do anything to help the team,” Saban said.
Running back Jalston Fowler, who missed most of last year with a knee injury, worked out with the tight ends and H-backs as well. Before his injury last season, Fowler showed versatility for the Tide and could be a dangerous weapon if he remains healthy.
Cyrus Jones, who was a wide receiver last season, continued to practice with the defensive backs Friday, as he did in the spring.
These position changes can be attributed to lack of depth or finding better usage for athletes buried on the depth charts at their respective positions.
The experiments don’t stop at moving players to new groups for practice as this is also Saban’s way of motivating certain players.
“We’ve got about two-thirds of the guys that really have the right kind of mental energy, the right kind of mental intensity, the right kind of focus, the right kind of understanding of what it takes to play at a high level all the time,” Saban said. “And then we’ve got about a third of the guys who are pretty casual, kind of have a hard time with the mental intensity part of it, especially sustaining it. That’s usually the case with younger players.
“That’s why we battle, because once you get a guy to do that, then improvement comes quickly.”
Alabama has 27 more practices for that improvement to come, and 29 more days until the Tide squares off with Virginia Tech in the Georgia Dome.
With a previous season of success comes more expectations. More preseason hype. More of the coach shooting down the early crowning of his endless pool of talent.
“Any preseason poll really doesn't mean a lot relative to the season,” Saban said.
New season. New words. Same meaning.
Still, whether the Tide pay attention to the poll matters little, but the fact remains that this bunch would prefer to follow the footsteps left by teammates in years capped by hoisting crystal trophies than the 2010 debacle.
A few players who’ve occasionally addressed reporters before, suddenly found themselves as the main pushers of this message.
“I feel as if every summer camp we all, as a team, have a mentality that it’s a brand new team,” offensive lineman Cyrus Kouandjio said. “We have not accomplished anything. Clean slate and it’s time to make a move, do something. So we all have the same mindset to excel every year, I feel.”
There’s no time to look back on what was or bask in the team’s glory. Safety HaHa Clinton-Dix wouldn’t even allow himself to acknowledge that his life changed after the national championship, in which he made a key interception.
However, Clinton-Dix did note that even his job isn’t secure.
“No one really has a starting position at all,” he said. “Everyone is out there trying to earn their position, working hard to beat the next player just to find a role on the defense.”
Sounds like the Tide is doing everything possible to avoid complacency and entitlement, but time will be the ultimate judge.
“The fact of the matter is every team is doing exactly what we’re doing right now,” Saban said. “... There’s not any team in the country that really accomplished anything as a team this year; they're really not entitled to anything. The achievements that we have are going to be by what we do.”