TUSCALOOSA -- Between questions about his checkered career and statements on how thankful he was for the opportunity, Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin was able to talk some football during Alabama’s media day.
Speaking to reporters for the first time in his new position, Kiffin said he was “excited to go back to work” and ready to “grind in football.”
Many have wondered if wholesale changes were going to be made to Alabama’s offense under Kiffin. But in year one, Kiffin just wants to build on the success the Crimson Tide has had in recent years.
“As far as the offense, the last thing we’d want to do is come in and change a bunch of stuff,” Kiffin said. “As I mentioned before, it’s a great offensive staff that’s been together here. Had a great run here last year on offense, the number of players had great success last year.
“Really just coming in and looking at some things. Very small changes just to make sure, at the end of the day, we’re putting our great players in the best position to utilize their talents in the best position for us to win games.”
Kiffin’s words mirror those of the Alabama veterans who have spoken with reporters since Kiffin was hired back in January. Both wide receiver Amari Cooper and tight end Brian Vogler called Kiffin’s offense player friendly. Even Tide coach Nick Saban praised Kiffin for getting the ball in the hands of his playmakers.
And to Saban and the rest of the Alabama staff’s credit, the cupboard is stocked with shiny new toys for Kiffin to play with in his first season.
First is junior running back T.J. Yeldon, who has rushed for 2,343 yards in his first two seasons and trails Alabama’s all-time rushing leader Shaun Alexander by 1,222 yards.
“T.J., to come in and see him from the first day that I got here, all I’ve seen is someone that works extremely hard,” Kiffin said. “Doesn’t say very much, doesn’t ever ask about how you’re going to utilize me, what different plays we’re going to do, just go and score.
“Trains extremely hard. Watched him in the offseason workouts and during the spring and now that we’re out there practicing, that guy goes as hard as anyone on our team and just wants to be great and just wants to learn.”
On the perimeter, Kiffin has junior wide receiver Amari Cooper, who hopes to rebound from an injury-plagued sophomore campaign. Like Yeldon, Kiffin said Cooper doesn’t say much, but just goes to work every day.
“We would have workouts when I first got here, and Amari sometimes would work out two hours before the workout started,” Kiffin said. “I thought it was a really hard workout we were doing – the Fourth Quarter program that we do here – but he worked out two hours before that. So Amari, we were joking yesterday, myself and Christion Jones, about some off-field stuff, and what you realize about Amari is there really isn’t any off-field stuff. Amari is completely dedicated to being the best football player that he can.
“He’s completely focused, so he’s great to work with. He wants to be great, and he also wants to expand his game. He comes in and asks questions about how you move around and how do you get to these spots. He’s been great to work with.”
Last, but far from least, Kiffin touched on tight end O.J. Howard. With receiver skills in a tight end body, Howard is unlike any player during Saban’s tenure at Alabama. Though seldom used as an actual target (14 total receptions), Howard spent much of last season as a receiver.
Kiffin wants to round out Howard’s game.
“O.J. is really extremely talented,” Kiffin said. “A guy who was more of a receiver last year, so we’re working more with him about expanding his game to be able to do everything. The last thing I want to do with guys here is just focus on what they do really well. That’s our challenge here this fall. Let’s focus on what you haven’t done so well and not what you’ve done.
“We know what you can do. Let’s bring your game up. A good example of that is, get a player who can play all of the time. A good example of that is for me making him an in-line player that can play all the time and help him not for just success now, but his whole career.”
Still, Kiffin will ultimately be judged for his work with Alabama’s quarterbacks. Kiffin has five players he’s tasked with molding into a replacement for three-year starter AJ McCarron. Fifth-year senior Blake Sims, redshirt junior Jacob Coker and redshirt freshman Cooper Bateman are the three biggest competitors for the job.
Kiffin said it’s paramount for the coordinator to have a good relationship with the quarterback.
“I have to see the game through him, and he has to see the game through me,” Kiffin said. “Because it doesn’t matter what I know. I might know everything to be able to draw it up or whatever, but that has nothing to do with if he’s going to be successful.
“So we have to make sure we have a relationship. We get to the point, eventually like the great quarterbacks that we’ve had, that we start to think the exact same way that you do. You might be sending in a play, and they start to turn around and start calling the play because they know what play you’re getting ready to call because of the relationship you developed.”
Saban said Kiffin has provided good leadership to the players he coaches and the entire offense.
“Some people have a tremendous amount of knowledge, but you have to be able to articulate it to the players in a way they can understand it and it’s simple for them to go out and execute it,” Saban said. “Systematically, Lane does that with the players he coaches and with the entire offense, which I think is really, really important.”
Sports Writer Marq Burnett: On Twitter @Marq_Burnett.