Nick Saban Coaches the Importance of Balance in All Things, Especially Defensive Backs
By: Larry Burton
When incoming freshman come to Tuscaloosa, one of the first things Nick Saban will talk to them about in a round about way is balance. They have to learn to balance being a student, being an athlete, being a teenager and all kinds of things that will be a part of their lives. They’ve got to learn to balance them all with proper perspectives to each. Many players have told me stories that vary a little, but all come back to balancing things.
This is something that he also takes to the practice field. Nick Saban is the CEO of Alabama Football, but he’s a very hands on director. He gets is hands dirty, gets in players faces not just when they do something wrong, but he sees they need to learn to things right. One of his pet peeves is seeing a player out of balance in a way that lets an opponent then use that imbalance to his advantage.
Likewise, he’ll teach his own players to see those faults in imbalance in others and then exploit them in pass rushing plays and in all positions on both sides of the line.
But nowhere is his teaching in balance put to more use than in working with defensive backs, his first love. Not only is this a position that he himself played in college, it’s the position that he had to learn perfect techniques to play as he was an undersized defensive back. He had to learn first hand how to control his body as well as how to put and keep it in position to be in optimal position to defend.
He knows that position so well and can spot a defensive back in a wrong position that even while he’s on one practice field working with a group, he can spot a defensive back mistake a whole field away. In a conversation a few years back with Marquis Johnson, an Alabama defensive back who went on to be drafted by St. Louis, Johnson told me that he was often spotted by Saban 150 yards away working with offensive players and see him take off on the wrong foot or give up the inside part of the field because he was leaning the wrong way and yell at him all that distance away. He said, “He doesn’t miss much, but he misses even less with the defensive backs. If you make a mistake on the practice field as a defensive back, he’s going to see it and you’re going to hear about it.”
Saban has some rules he teaches every defensive back, they are:
First – To keep you feet no wider apart than your shoulders on the initial step or beginning of the play. This makes them take shorter steps at the beginning of the play so they can match what the receiver is doing. Only by having you feet together close can you take those first short steps and not be caught leaning.
Second, punch, jab or shove the receiver initially at the start of the play. You do this by always keeping your hands up. Using this technique, you can often throw the receiver off his stride, affect his initial balance and cause further imbalance.
Third, not a big fan of back peddling, Saban wants those defenders to run with receivers side by side, not facing the opposite direction. To keep them tight, he teaches his players to reach across and touch the receivers thigh pad. This keeps them attached to the receiver.
Lastly, outside defenders are taught to pin receivers to an imaginary line no more than six yards from the sideline, keeping the area they have to work in limited to an area that they can more easily defend while using the sideline as another defender. And keep your balance to time a jump, make a cut or make a tackle.
Each of these techniques he teaches defensive backs begin and end with proper balance, just like the lives he hopes they’ll live while at Alabama.
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Larry has been published in almost every media outlet for college sports and now primarily writes here for Touchdown Alabama. Follow Larry on Twitter for inside thoughts and game time comments at https://twitter.com/LBSportswriter