College football: Saban keeps pipeline open from Alabama to NFL
by Marq Burnett
mburnett@annistonstar.com
Jan 25, 2014 | 2242 views |  0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Alabama coach Nick Saban (Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
Alabama coach Nick Saban (Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
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After having no players selected in the 2008 NFL draft following Nick Saban’s first season as Alabama’s coach, the Crimson Tide has had 14 players taken in the first round since then.

In that span, no other team in the country has had half that many. For perspective, Oregon, Florida State, Ohio State and Notre Dame don’t have 14 first-rounders combined during that time.

Alabama has had a player taken in the first round for four straight years, tying the school record (1978-1981).

And with three projected first-round picks heading in the 2014 draft, the Crimson Tide’s run likely will continue on.

But what separates the Crimson Tide from other college football programs?

For Senior Bowl Executive Director Phil Savage, it’s all about the pool of incoming talent the Tide signs on a consistent basis under Saban.

“Once you kind of establish that, players come back and talk about their experiences,” Savage said. “Great players like to be around other great players. You don’t see the Alabama player shy away from competition. They’re around it every day and if you’re not getting the job done, they’ll find somebody else.

“That’s what the NFL is all about. I think that prepares them from a mental standpoint in terms of knowing what they’re going to face at the next level.”

Saban has secured the No. 1 recruiting classes for three straight years, according to Rivals.com’s annual rankings, so talent is at a premium.

But one NFL scout said it’s not just talent, but also the work ethic players develop under Saban, who has eight years of NFL experience as a coach, including six as an assistant and two as the Miami Dolphins’ head coach.

The scout, who didn’t want to be identified because he is not authorized by his team to speak to reporters on the record, also credited Saban’s business-like approach to the college game as one of many factors that gives Alabama players an advantage.

Former Tide offensive tackle D.J. Fluker echoed those sentiments. Fluker was the No. 11 pick in the 2013 draft, taken by the San Diego Chargers. In a recent interview with Tide 99.1-FM in Tuscaloosa, he explained part of the reason for his success.

“Playing at Alabama, practice-wise, is probably a lot harder than playing in the NFL,” Fluker said. “Being under Coach Saban and the practices he makes each and every day was like an NFL game. That prepared me the most, being in that environment every single day. ... Coach made everything organized, just like being in the NFL.”

Former Tide linebacker Adrian Hubbard said Alabama prepares players for how to handle situations on and off the field.

“How to mature and respond to adversity in a professional way,” Hubbard said. “Some guys really don’t know how to respond to adversity and at Alabama, they taught us that even if things aren’t going too well, you still have to be able to triumph in those situations.”

Marq Burnett is an Anniston Star sports writer. He can be reached at mburnett@annistonstar.com. Twitter: @Marq_Burnett.
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