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Expecting 'ball-control' offense at Alabama? Hold that thought

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It's March, and Saban is already fed up (1:32)

Nick Saban is fired up after a reporter implies Alabama is going to run a ball-control offense next season. (1:32)

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Be careful not to make any assumptions about Alabama’s offense now that Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian have departed.

If you’re determined to make an educated guess about its direction under new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, don’t do it around Nick Saban.

The Crimson Tide’s head coach was in midseason form at the start of spring practice on Tuesday when he went on a rant following a reporter’s question about whether the hiring of Daboll signaled a shift in philosophy to a more “ball-control” offense. Saban repeatedly questioned the premise of the question, shot down the idea that Alabama lost to Clemson in the national championship game because of a 9-minute deficit in time of possession and, at one point, he even went on a tangent about a new NCAA rule he said will prohibit high school coaches from bringing players to summer camps and instead allow “some third party guy” to do it.

Saban’s hard left turn into recruiting aside, it was clear he didn’t appreciate even the notion that Alabama’s offense would change.

“I don’t know where you came up with, we’re going to ball control,” he said. “That’s not what we do. I mean, the New England Patriots threw the ball over 60 percent of the time, which was more than we threw it. So where does that assumption come from? Or do you do what everybody else in the media does and just create some s--- and throw it on the wall and see what sticks, which is what I see happening everywhere?”

Mind you, this isn’t a new stance from Saban toward the media. Whether it was the transition from Jim McElwain to Doug Nussmeier or Nussmeier to Kiffin, Saban has never been particularly forthcoming when it comes to changes being made on offense. He repeatedly rebuked the idea that Kiffin brought that spread to Tuscaloosa (it was his idea, he’d say) and emphasized instead that the fundamentals of the offense were never altered, only certain formations and the overall tempo.

Nevertheless, it’s not absurd to expect some differences under Daboll, who as an offensive coordinator with the Browns, Chiefs and Dolphins from 2009-12 ran what would best be described as a more pro-style and ball-control type of system than not. What’s more, as tight ends coach with the Patriots, he and offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia were responsible for helping coordinate the running game.

At Alabama’s pro day earlier this month, Saban said that Daboll was “a bright guy that can learn some of the things that we’ve done here relative to the spread.”

So with a coordinator still learning the spread, a young quarterback in Jalen Hurts developing as a passer and a bevy of talented running backs, should we assume that Alabama might run the ball more in 2017 and, as a result, fare better in terms of time of possession? Maybe.

But, again, don’t tell Saban.

Until Alabama’s Sept. 2 date with Florida State, we’re left to parse words and make educated guesses.