Rees Reflects on Alabama Offense, Milroe
It's a rare treat when the media gets to speak to a Nick Saban coordinator. It happens maybe 2-3 times a year, tops. Thursday in Los Angeles, offensive coordinator Tommy Rees stepped to the podium and had plenty to say about the offense, Jalen Milroe and the Rose Bowl vs. Michigan. Here's a look:
On redshirt quarterbacks Dylan Lonergan and Eli Holstein
"Dylan has been up with us throughout the season. He did a really nice job through the off-season and through camp, and we just felt like his ability to develop and have him up, have three guys repping was important, especially that kind of post-South Florida, working him in the mix.
"I think Eli has progressed tremendously throughout the season. He's really put a lot of work in. We had kind of a plan of development for him midway through the season. We started getting him some extra work with what we're doing offensively, so it's not always scout team opportunities for him, trying to get some of the extra guys out there with him post-practice and doing some things with our GAs to kind of be in the system that we're running, so he gets to steal some reps that way.
"The cool thing about bowl prep early is you're doing less game plan and more good-on-good, and we were able to give Eli a lot of reps during that. You've seen the growth with him, and I think both have a high ceiling and a lot of upside to their game and excited where it could go for them."
On Nick Saban's adaptability/working for him
"The game is changing right now in college football, and there's a lot of conversations behind the scenes of how that game is changing, and you see his ability to adapt to it and his understanding. I think one great skill is his anticipation of where it's going and being able to react to that.
"In a smaller view, you just look at our season and our ability to adapt as the year has gone on and tried to play to our strengths, I think that comes from the top. That's the challenge every day is, okay, this isn't working, what can we do to find a way to play better, to do some things. Being around it every day, it challenges you to think and it challenges you to evolve and it challenges you to find ways to work and give your players an opportunity to have success.
:That's one of the great skills he's had or has, and part of the reason I think success has followed. He's been through it now for a lot of changes in college football. It's still changing. His adaptability to it has been tremendous, and being a young coach and being around it and seeing that in action has been tremendous to my own development.
"You take these jobs, you take this opportunity, knowing the challenges that come with it. For me personally, you want that. You want to be at a place where the expectations are high. You want to be at a place where the demands are high. You want to be at a place where football is important and people care, and you understand what comes with that.
"For me that was part of the allure of the job. Learning under Coach, growing under Coach, again, being challenged every day in how you think and how you develop and being prepared, like those are all positives. For me, that is something I wanted. Coach has exceeded any expectations of whatever preconceived notions you could have of working for him, you find yourself every day finding little items of meaning or what we're doing that you're going to take with you.
"You've got to remind yourself that this is unbelievable, the learning experience and the growth you're having while also being present in the moment of going after success and finding ways to be effective on the football field. Greatness is a term that's thrown around a lot, but I think working for Coach, you really see it. For me, again, as a young coach, that's part of the opportunity that Alabama presents."
On his relationship with Milroe
"I think as the season goes on and you kind of learn how to reach different people, and as you're working and coaching. Our job as teachers and coaches is to bring the best out of our players and bring the best out of what they can do, and a huge part of that is how do you reach those guys. That's a challenge when it's a new player with a new coach.
"You try to find out kind of what makes them go off the field, what makes them go on the field, what are the things that give them confidence, what are the things that can bring the most out of them. For Jalen and I, the relationship building over months has been really positive. He's an unbelievable human being -- it's an unbelievable kid. Like the way he's able to face adversity, the way he's able to push through things, the standard he holds himself to, like those things probably started with his parents.
"He's done an unbelievable job throughout the season of staying true to that. I think an underrated quality is just the humility he has to want to get better and to want to be the best version of himself. For us as a coach, that's refreshing because he wants all those things.
"You've got to kind of find ways to lighten the mood every once in a while with players. Can you get him to laugh? Can you get him to calm down? Can you get him to feel relaxed and comfortable? Then I think the thing we've been able to do throughout the season is as you start building the system around the quarterback, it gives the quarterback a lot of confidence, and then when they start to have some autonomy in what you're doing, it gets greater buy-in from the player.
"I think that's all part of the growth, and that shows trust and belief in the individual, which ultimately then can help bring the best out of what they have."
On building Milroe's confidence back after the USF benching
"I think you build him back up, and I think a lot of credit goes to Jalen and his mental toughness to go through those things and his ability to say I'm focused on -- you talk about the humility, that's where it really comes into play. All right, we didn't play well against South Florida. He didn't play. It would be easy for him to look at that as a negative.
"He was humble enough to say, these are still the areas I need to get better. I am committed to my teammates and this program to do those things. He pushed forward and kept working. Again, like his competitive toughness and his confidence are probably two of his greatest qualities he has, and that's not really something you can figure out until you're put into some adversity or you're put into the ability to go play in the games."
On the package he has for Kendrick Law
"He's a strong, powerful, fast athlete. So finding ways to get him on the field, finding ways to get him in positions to have success is important. You want to exhaust all the resources you have as an offense, personnel, all the things you're given offensively.
"Obviously his development throughout the year and being able to add things to his plate I think has enhanced some of the things we can do. But we have a lot of guys like that. So finding a way to balance all the skill players we have has been important through this home stretch, and K-Law is just one example of that."
On building the offense before knowing who the starting QB was
"I think you're looking for your identity in those points of the season. I think as the year has gone on and we said this is who we are and who we are going to be. I remember early in the season saying who we want to be and who we are are two different things. Who we thought we were going to be or who we can be are going to be two different things and that's okay.
"Let's just work to find ways to build who we are and what we can do and build around it. Throughout the season we've been able to continue to add to what we're doing and stack things on top of each other, where you look at what we're doing now versus nine weeks ago looks completely different. It was a slow progression of adding things to our plate, but that's part of the development and part of the progression of the season.
"The credit goes to our staff, staying together, buying in, this is what we're going to do, finding ways to develop our guys. The players buying in, owning their role, having the ability to learn and grow and develop what we're doing. Again, you get a lot of gratification looking back and seeing the progression that we've had. Again, all the credit to those guys for putting in the time and work to find our identity and become the offense that we're trying to continue to build to be.
"I think we have a wealth of personnel where there's a lot of guys that you're trying to get incorporated. So when you have all these pieces that you feel like can help attack a defense, you try to put them in positions to have success. It's not like we sat there and said, hey, we've got to have this balance and this spread, but you look at we have a few running backs that can go out there and impact the game, so we've got to find ways.
"Some games one is running better than the other and that becomes his game. We've had some guys in and out of the lineup where that impacts who's in, but you see guys like Isaiah Bond step up into the role he's stepped into. You look at guys like Kobe Prentice who's showed up in big moments, Kendrick Law is a guy in the back half of the season that we got involved a little bit more. Amari [Niblack] is a guy that's been in there throughout the season and able to present some challenges for defenses.
"You're just looking at all the pieces and finding ways to make sure that you're attacking teams the right way. If somebody is trying to take a certain player away, how can we get the other pieces around. To me, that's a credit to the talent that we have throughout the offense and the wealth of talent that we have at different positions and then trying to be multiple and present different challenges to what defenses are seeing."
On losing to Alabama in the 2012 national title game as a backup QB
"I remember Sweet Home Alabama playing, walking off the field. They were clearly better than we were. That was a great team that I was a part of and a lot of proud moments and a lot of people that I'm still very close with and a lot of people I hold in high regard. But we were outmatched that night.
"We faced Alabama twice in my career, once as a player, once in '20 in the playoff game. They present a great challenge, and it's personnel driven, it's schematic driven. To see the consistency from 2012 to now in the program is really something that should deserve high praise."
On coaching in the SEC
"I think it just means more, right? That's the slogan. I think the SEC experience has been unbelievable. The ability to -- like when you play that schedule week in and week out, stacking those games on top of each other is the challenge. You go on the road to Mississippi State, you can't hear.
"Those challenges of like anywhere you go, it's a focal point. That's what makes this conference special. I did grow up in Big Ten country, and I worked and played in that area of the country pretty much my whole life. This experience has been unbelievable. I think you see the importance of football. As somebody that loves the game and has been around the game my whole life, it's pretty special, pretty unique, and the support from the fans, and like I said, you want to come to a place where football is important. You want to come to a place where that expectation, that challenge is present. It's been a really great opportunity for myself and going through the whole schedule. It's been pretty cool."
On the Michigan program
"I played against Michigan for four years in college. I've coached against them three -- this will be my fourth time now. They've been a great program for a long time. They've had really good players for a long time. Schematically they've had head coaches come in there and put their own twist on things and have success. I have a lot of respect for them.
"They're very good on defense, and they have been for a while, and their personnel is strong and big and physical, and they play their style of football, and I think you see their guys in the back end and they've got good corners and good safeties that can challenge you on the perimeter.
"You look at Michigan, for me, my entire life, you look at Michigan on this pedestal, and I don't think it's any different. I think they have a great team, and they do a really nice job defensively. Jesse [Minter] is a really good coordinator and presents a lot of challenges for what you're trying to go attack."
On how Milroe's improvement relates to the offensive line's progress
"I think tremendously. I think both groups have grown and developed throughout the season. I think when you feel confident in your ability to run the ball, when you feel confident in your ability to protect, it helps the quarterback a lot. I also think Jalen has done some things to help them, and I think they've done some things to help Jalen.
"I think when you have a collective group, like we talk about offensive football, it really takes all 11 doing their job to have success. If a left tackle gets beat and gives up a sack but a corner gets beat and is giving up a touchdown, the sack takes place first, so the bust never happens. On offense if you have one guy not doing their job, it can wreck a play.
"When you look at our growth offensively, I think it's really all 11 guys on the field buying in and understanding this is our job, this is what we're trying to do, this is how it might help somebody else out on the field, and that's something we try to preach to our guys every day.
"That credit goes to Jalen and his ability to keep pushing and keep working and want to develop into the player that he's been."
On comparing Michigan's front seven to an SEC team
"Yeah, they're very good up front. I think that's a strength of their team. They're athletic. Their D-line coach Mike Elston was at Notre Dame for a long time. I worked with him. I played when he was a coach. He does a great job. You can see his coaching, the way they use their hands, they way they get off blocks.
"They're athletic. They have power. Their front is really good. They have two linebackers. One of them has played a lot of football for them, so you can see his instincts and his experience show up. They both can run. [Number] 0, their star nickel, is a disruptor out on the field. They present a great challenge.
"We see great fronts in our conference, but they're right there, and they're as good as anybody we'll play."
On learning from Nick Saban
"It's been a really unique experience because you're so focused on the task at hand and being present in the moment and trying to find ways, but then you have these little moments where you can reflect on some of the higher arching themes or little nuggets of information you take with you that you kind of know this is something that is able to provide insight or things that you can look back on for your career in terms of how he handled it and how he looks at things.
"I think being around it, it kind of seeps into you, but then there's also these moments where okay, that's really good perspective, that's something to remember moving forward while also, again, you're so enthralled in being present in what you're trying to do day in and day out that those moments are here and you feel them but you try not to -- that's for another moment to kind of reflect back on."
On the Rose Bowl
"Listen, the Rose Bowl in my family was like a holiday. I wasn't old enough to experience it here while [his dad] was at UCLA, but the Rose Bowl, like every year it was like, we're stopping what we're doing and we're watching the Rose Bowl no matter what.
"Like this place is majestic to my family. It's pretty cool to be here. Pretty cool to have our family here. My brother obviously played at UCLA and spent a lot of time here. My mom went to UCLA and spent a lot of time here. This experience for our family, it's something, again, down the road to reflect on will be a pretty cool thing for us all to experience."