By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
The SEC Media Days concluded yesterday (July 13) at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham-Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover.
Auburn was the first team to take the stage on Monday (July 11). Head coach Gus Malzahn, receiver Marcus Davis and defensive linemen Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams represented the Tigers.
AU is coming off of a disappointing 7-6 season, and Malzahn noted that the Tigers’ struggles in close games led to several losses.
“In this league, you’re going to have a lot of close games,” said Malzahn. “The two previous years, we were one of the best in the country at winning close games. We didn’t execute at a high level con-sistently, and that goes back on me.”
The quarterback position was a major problem for AU a season ago, and if the Tigers are going to contend in 2016, they will need to have strong production from that position. Sean White, Jeremy Johnson and John Franklin III are all in the mix for the starting role at signal-caller.
“We got to find our star-ting quarterback,” said Malzahn. “The positive is we have three guys that we feel like can execute our offense. The challenge we have is defining and figuring out who that guy is that gives us the best chance to win games.”
Auburn’s defensive line should be the strength of the team in the upcoming season. Adams and Lawson will lead a loaded Tiger defensive line. Both players skipped the NFL draft to return to the plains for a more successful season.
“It was a decision that I had to make with my family,” said Lawson. “What was best for me was to come back to Auburn, finish my degree, become a better athlete, become a better football player.”
Adams said he needed to become “more of a dominating specimen” and “more tenacious” this fall.
Malzahn said Auburn’s theme this year is “Earn It.”
“Our players came up with that,” said Malzahn. “Earn your teammates’ respect, your coaches’ respect. Earn it every day on and off the field, and our guys have done that in the offseason.”
Auburn opens the season against Clemson on Sept. 3 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Alabama took the stage on Wednesday, with head coach Nick Saban, defensive back Eddie Jackson, defensive lineman Jonathan Allen and tight end O.J. Howard representing the Crimson Tide.
Saban said that the defending national champions have had a very productive offseason.
“I’m very pleased with the progress that we made,” he said. “We obviously lost some really, really good players from last year’s championship team, good leadership, good people. Great team chemistry. All things that are intangibles that are difficult to build, and our challenge is to re-cognize as they develop, because those things just don’t happen overnight.”
For the third consecutive season Alabama will have a new starting quarterback. Saban said that no player has emerged yet for that role.
“Somebody’s got to win that job. Somebody’s got to win the team. That’s something that’s going to happen probably in fall camp.”
Saban also is concerned with the lack of experience at running back entering this season after the departures of Heisman winner Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake.
“This is the first time for many, many years that we have not had an experienced, talented running back who has proven his value,” said Saban.
Allen said that complacency wouldn’t be an issue with this Crimson Tide team.
“I’ve seen a lot of hunger in this team. The biggest thing at Alabama is that if you don’t have hunger, then you’re not going to start this year. Coach Saban is not going to do anything that is a detriment to the team, so you have to come with intensity every day and prove why you deserve to play.”
Howard added that this Alabama team realizes last year’s success has no impact on this year’s success.
“I think our team knows that’s last year. This team hasn’t done anything yet. We’re a new team. We have to establish ourselves. Everyone is working hard and no one is complacent. New players have bought into ‘The Process’ already. The older guys are doing the right things. I think we’ll be fine this season.”
Saban said that the addition of Jeremy Pruitt as defensive coordinator is going well since he “knows the system.”
Alabama opens the season against USC on Sept. 3 in Arlington, Tex.