Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, along with linebacker Reuben Foster, defensive linemen Jonathan Allen and Dalvin Tomlinson, and defensive backs Minkah Fitzpatrick and Marlon Humphrey, met with reporters Tuesday morning in Atlanta. Here is what they said during their time at the main podium.
THE MODERATOR: For this session, defensive coordinator from Alabama, Coach Jeremy Pruitt and defensive end, Jonathan Allen. We'll take opening comments and get right into the Q and A.
Coach, give us an opening statement with what bowl preparations have been like for you so far and how you're transitioning into Bowl Week.
JEREMY PRUITT: First of all, we're excited for the opportunity that we have here this week. We'd like to personally thank everybody associated with the Chick-fil-A Bowl here in Atlanta for making this such a wonderful event.
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We had seven practices last week in Tuscaloosa. We kind of went back to the basics. I'm sure Jon and these guys were excited about it. But we had seven really good days, just trying to focus on improving as a team.
We've got a tremendous challenge in front of us with Washington. These guys are extremely well coached, have a very good quarterback. They're very athletic up front. They've got play makers at the running back position, tight end possession, wide receivers. So we've got a tremendous challenge in front of us.
The thing that we've got to do as a football team, you watch these bowl games and it's been -- I don't know how many days it's been since we've played, but several weeks here. The first thing that you lose is your block protection, how to get off blocks. And you got to tackle.
We kind of have a saying in our room that every play ends either with a touchdown or a tackle. So we've got to find a way to get these guys on the ground.
THE MODERATOR: Jonathan, talk to us a little bit about what last night was like, getting settled in, doing the events and the Battle for Bowl Week. Was that fun for you?
JONATHAN ALLEN: That was fun. As a team, we enjoy the camaraderie. It was good to have a little bit of fun.
This week, it's all about making things normal for us and making things how they've been the whole season. I feel like the coaching staff and the coaches have done a good job of doing that with the meetings and the preparation.
It was a good first day and we had fun afterwards.
THE MODERATOR: All right. Raise your hand, we'll get you a microphone.
Q. Jeremy, is this one of these pinch me, am I dreaming moments? Because not too long ago, you were an assistant coach at Hoover High School. You're in a position to maybe win your second national championship in four seasons.
JEREMY PRUITT: First of all, I'm very thankful for the opportunity that Coach Saban gave me ten years ago. I do have to pinch myself because there's a lot more high school coaches out there that's far more deserving than me, just kind of right place, right time.
The big thing for me is it's about the kids, and this group of guys that we've got this year is as fun a group as I've ever been around. It's exciting to see these guys. Being gone from them for three days and kind of seeing them when they come back in the room, it's kind of a joy to be around these guys.
Q. Jeremy, Nick has said countless times this season that going against the spread offense has really helped your defense in preparation for all the offenses you see. How much has being around this defense changed since the time you were there before in your first stint in Alabama?
JEREMY PRUITT: I think one of the things that Coach Saban, what makes him such a really good football coach is how he adapts. In the six years that I was with him before, he found ways to adapt as offenses changed in college football. He found ways to, you know, create probably different looks for teams that we play.
The three years that I've been gone, there has been some changes, and he's adapted to some of the things that's going on in college football.
Q. Jonathan, when you made the decision to come back and all the reasons that went into it, you're standing here within two games of a national championship. Did this year go pretty much exactly the way you hoped it would?
JONATHAN ALLEN: I'd have to say this year went better than I could have ever expected. When I came back, it was a tough decision, but I had to put the faith in the resources that I was given in Coach Saban and, you know, I think it paid off.
But far from over, far from finished. Hopefully, got two more games left. We've just got to keep running and keep working.
Q. Good morning, gentlemen. From the outside, when we look at what you guys are doing and capable of doing, we just see one of the most dominant defenses in recent memory.
What do you see when you look at what you're capable of doing?
JONATHAN ALLEN: I see a team that has a lot of success when we put in the work. The games we don't have success, those are probably our worst weeks of practice. So it kind of goes hand in hand. When we practice good and do everything we're supposed to do and go to bed on time and just do what we got to do as a defense, we'll have a successful game. When we don't, it's not as successful.
As Coach Pruitt said, we can be as normal as we want to be if we don't do what we have to do.
JEREMY PRUITT: I see a group of guys that believe in each other. They enjoy being around each other. You guys know when you like going to work, you're very productive. And our guys like to go to work.
So that's one thing that I see, and I can't emphasize it enough, the kind of camaraderie that these guys have, how they call on each other. They believe in each other. And they hold each other accountable and that goes with the strong leadership that we have on this defense.
Q. Jeremy, midway through the season, you lose a guy who's potentially an All-American safety in Eddie Jackson. How did the defense change? What did you have to do differently, or was it just a case of next man up?
JEREMY PRUITT: You don't replace guys like Eddie Jackson. They're far and few between. Eddie was a tremendous leader for us. I saw him yesterday getting on the bus. He's not on crutches anymore. He's walking, got a smile on his face. I asked him if we could get a few more plays out of him on Saturday. You can't replace a guy like this. He still has an impact on the guys on this football team just by being there every day.
We lost Shaun Dion in the Florida game. That's another guy there. So we just got to, you know -- it's somebody else's turn and they'll be ready to go.
Q. Jeremy, John Ross at U-Dub is one of the most explosive players in the country. When you watch film, what stands out to you about him? Why is he so good?
JEREMY PRUITT: I'm sorry. Can you repeat the question.
Q. John Ross at U-Dub is one of the best receivers in the country, one of the most explosive players. What makes him so good? What stands out to you when you watch film of him?
JEREMY PRUITT: First of all, he runs really good routes. They have a great scheme. They move him around. It's hard to predict where he's going to be. He wins 50/50 balls. You play man-to-man on him, you know, he wins the 50/50 balls.
He's really good with the ball after the catch. They do a nice job with him in the screen game. He's instinctive. He's an instinctive football player. The big thing about him to me that tells what kind of competitive spirit he's got is the way he blocks in the run game. The guy gets after it in the run game and that kind of tells you who he really is.
Q. What does their quarterback, Jake Browning, do that maybe different or more challenging than other quarterbacks you've prepared for?
JONATHAN ALLEN: One thing that Browning doesn't get enough credit for is his versatility. He's a very athletic running quarterback. So after breaking down the film time after time, you see line backers and defensive backs missing tackles on him and they're making great throws down the field. That's something that I don't think he gets enough credit for. That's definitely something that we've been practicing for. We're going to have to be ready for.
Other than that, he's just such a poised confident quarterback. He trusts all his receivers, spreads the ball out evenly throughout the offense. It's definitely going to be a challenge for us, but we're excited for it.
JEREMY PRUITT: I'd say the big thing is he protects the football. There's very few interceptions, very few turnovers, which is very important.
He understands the offense. He understand what's they're trying to get done. He doesn't hold the ball. He knows where he's going with the ball. He throws guys open. He's got a very good understanding of the run game.
They obviously, you know, their RPO game. He gets the ball out of his hand. But, again, he can extend. He probably doesn't get enough credit for the athletic ability that he has. He can extend and be a play maker with his feet, but he does a nice job with his eyes down the field to create an explosive pass game.
Q. Coach and Jonathan, there's been talk that Coach Saban had the video department go back like eight years to back when Coach Pete was at Boise and put a reel together of just trick plays. First of all, did he really go back eight years? Secondly, what all did each of y'all notice on that reel?
JONATHAN ALLEN: I wouldn't put anything past Coach Saban. So I'm not sure if he did, but I wouldn't be surprised if he did. We watched a lot of their trick plays. They do have a lot of trick plays. When it comes to stuff like that, it's about discipline as a defense, having good eye control, every man doing their job and not trying to do someone else's job. As a defense, I think we'll have success with it, but we'll have to prepare and practice for it.
JEREMY PRUITT: I'd say that we always try to go back and look at the history of your opponent. I wouldn't say eight years. That's probably too far. But you want to have an idea of what they've done in similar type games.
These guys do an excellent job executing what they do.
Q. Coach Pruitt, since Coach Saban is like a defense guy, I wanted to know how much, during games, in the course of games, you know, he's calling the plays versus you calling the plays. How hands-on he is with the defense during games.
JEREMY PRUITT: I would say Coach Saban is very hands-on in every part of our program from the weight room to the nutrition to all the way down to, you know, what we're going to wear to this press conference.
But, yes, in game day, it's a luxury as a play caller, you've got somebody to lean on. Obviously, I call the plays. I call the defenses. And if he has something that he likes or wants to interject, obviously he does.
Q. Jonathan, with Alabama, you've had some dominant defenses, and Coach Pruitt, you've coached some really dominant defenses. Quite simply, how good is this group and why?
JONATHAN ALLEN: I feel like this group can be as good as they want to be. When we're focused doing our job, executing, communicating, running to the ball, having fun, we feel like we can be the best ever.
But if we're not doing our job, guys aren't communicating, not doing -- just not doing our job, I mean, anybody can win the ball game. So I feel like it's in our hands. We're excited for the challenge, the opportunity.
We love playing for one another and playing with each other so that just makes it that much better and we're just excited.
JEREMY PRUITT: I think this day and time, it's hard to get one guy to do his job, much less 11 guys to do their job. I think this group has been unique in the fact that not only they know what to do, they know how to do it and they know why it's important to do it that way.
And you can find guys that can do that some of the time, but it's hard to find guys that can do that all the time. And I think that's unique about this bunch is they can sustain. They can do it. It don't matter, you know, what's going on in the game, what the atmosphere is.
I think the bigger the challenge, the more they kind of rise to the top. And I think that's what's unique about these guys.
Q. Jeremy, you talked about them taking good care of the football. But when you're plus-21 in turnovers, they're obviously forcing a lot of turnovers. What have you seen? I know you're watching their offense. What have you seen from them and their ability to create turnovers?
JEREMY PRUITT: I think some of that has to do with being opportunistic. As a coach, when you go to recruiting guys, you want to find guys that are ball hawks, you know, whether they play the defensive line, line backers, defensive backs. One thing to me involved in recruiting, if you sign a guy that's a defensive back and he don't intercept any passes on Friday nights, he's probably not going to intercept any on Saturday. So I think some of that's got to do with recruiting. I think some of it's got to do with those guys putting their players in places to make plays and they've taken advantage of that.
Q. You guys won your league. They won their league, obviously a very talented team. Yet you guys are 14-point favorites. What's the significance?
JONATHAN ALLEN: I don't really pay attention to that. That doesn't really mean anything at this point. As Coach Saban would say, every team is zero-zero. To get into the playoffs, you have to be a really good team. So we're not focused on anything or anybody that's a favorite in this game because anybody can be beat on any day. We've trying to go out there with the blue collar mentality and work and put our best foot forward. Whatever happens, happens.
JEREMY PRUITT: I'd comment on that, on top of what Jon said. It has nothing to do what's happened in, you know, September, October, November, December. That's the beauty about this sport.
That 60 minutes, ever who plays the best for those 60 minutes, the best team's not going to win. It's going to be the team that plays the best for those 60 minutes is going to win the football game. That's something we've got to focus on.
Q. Jeremy, I wanted to ask you this and also to get Jonathan's take on this. In all the years that you've worked with Coach Saban, how much have you maybe become like him and, you know, if you could -- if Jonathan could talk about that as well.
JONATHAN ALLEN: Sometimes I catch myself talking to him, I'll go back home and be talking to family and keep on saying the things he'd say. I feel like in a lot of ways, I am like Coach Saban. That's not a bad thing.
After being under Coach Saban for so long, you start to think like him. You see how he thinks. You see the success that it brings. So it's kind of hard not to act like that and not to follow his lead and do the things he does and talk like he talks because it's successful.
Q. Jonathan, you've been to the College Football Playoff three straight years. Does the pain of losing that first year outweigh the winning it last year?
JONATHAN ALLEN: Yeah, I definitely say it was. Something that Coach Saban says and that we all kind of agree with is we hate losing more than we like winning. So that's a game I wish I could have back. Obviously, there's no do-overs in this game. So any guy who was here never has to have any motivation to work hard and play hard. We just try to show the younger guys that there's no other feeling like losing a game like that. So I kind of keep it in the back of my mind, come to work every day and just never forget about it.
Q. Jeremy, you've been through playoff situations before, and this is just a personal preference question. Do you like the month to prepare, to watch that much film and so forth, or do you worry about paralysis by analysis in those situations?
JEREMY PRUITT: No. I think it's the same for all the teams involved. So you kind of, you play the hand that you're dealt and figure out the way to create the best advantage for your team.
THE MODERATOR: For this session, from Alabama, we've got Minkah Fitzpatrick, safety, linebacker Reuben Foster, cornerback Marlon Humphrey and defensive end Dalvin Tomlinson.
Q. This is for Minkah and Marlon. Ross, Pettis, their two receivers on the outside, how challenging will they be?
MINKAH FITZPATRICK: They're two real good receivers. Number one, he's a real vertical threat. He can make you miss in space and if you don't get hands on him, he's a real vertical threat. They stretch the field.
Number 8, he's also a bigger guy, more vertical threat, real big hands.
I think they'll be a challenge for us. If we do our job, shouldn't be a problem.
MARLON HUMPHREY: Like Minkah said, Ross is one of the fastest receivers we'll see this season. Him and Pettis are very patient with their hands. They locate the ball really well and stay patient all the way through the ball. It's hard to read their eyes, so you've got to get your head turned around and attack the ball because Browning throws a really good ball and they usually can always go up and get it.
Q. Marlon and Minkah, if you could each talk about the job from day one this year that Anthony Averett has done for you all when he wasn't even a starter last year. He waited his time, showed patience and has had a pretty solid year for you all?
MINKAH FITZPATRICK: It's exactly what he said. He had a whole lot of patience since he's been here. He's been consistent this season. That's kind of his biggest thing. He's been real consistent in technique and making plays on the ball when they throw at him.
MARLON HUMPHREY: Anthony has been a guy that's been around for a while, like you said. And he's stayed patient, worked hard, keep letting Saban work with you, you end up getting on the field and that's what he did. Since the first game, he just got better and better as the season's went on.
And you see him walking around smiling now and I'm just happy for him.
Q. This is going to be for Reuben and Dalvin. What challenges does Washington's running game present to y'all's defense?
DALVIN TOMLINSON: For the Washington running game, I'd say the offensive line is a whole lot quicker than most of the offensive lines we've faced this year. They're good at cutting defensive linemen off and cut blocks and stuff like that, so we have to be aware of the cut blocks and the scheme and the different blocks they do up front. And we're going to be aggressive up front and control the line of scrimmage.
Q. This is for Reuben and Minkah. Is this one of the more balanced offenses you've guys have faced all year? How do you prepare for that? Is it more difficult not knowing what might come in specific situations?
MINKAH FITZPATRICK: Yeah, I would say they're more balanced than what we've seen because they average about 210 rushing yards per game and that's a pretty big number.
They also throw the ball a whole lot, which is kind of based off of the run. So if we can stop the run, I feel like it will be a whole lot -- they'll have to throw a whole lot more, so it will kind of throw them off their game and make them do things that they're not used to doing.
REUBEN FOSTER: I think so, man. It's just they've got a lot of trick plays, a lot of schemes, a lot of screens. But we can dumb it down and stop 'em.
Q. Losing Eddie halfway through the season, how has he taken on more of a leadership role now that he's not playing?
THE MODERATOR: Minkah, start with you.
MINKAH FITZPATRICK: Eddie, after he got hurt, he started doing his rehab and he was down for a little bit, but he came out, he's been making sure all the younger guys are doing what they're supposed to do and staying on us and still having the leadership role but just kind of off the field.
REUBEN FOSTER: Eddie's a great leader, man. You know, we're doing this right here, so he can make us work. He's got a leadership role for the young guys, also me, including Dalvin, all of us.
MARLON HUMPHREY: I think Eddie was always a vocal guy when he was playing. When he went down, it seemed like he talked more and more to us from sidelines, during practice. So I think him going down is definitely a bad thing, but it turned out, he made it into a good thing, being a coach from the sidelines, especially with DBs. Breaking down before we get to warm it up, he's right there in the DB huddle. So just having him in that sense was really good.
THE MODERATOR: Dalvin?
DALVIN TOMLINSON: Eddie was a vocal guy across the board. When he got hurt, it was a bad thing. He made it into a good thing to remind us each and every play you have to play your heart out because you never know when it's your last play.
Q. Reuben, all three of you guys were here last year in the playoffs. Three of you were here two years ago. How does that help in the preparation, not getting flustered by the big lights, the big stage and maintaining what you guys have done all season long?
REUBEN FOSTER: I just think it's the Bama way. We just go in the playoff, treat it as a business trip and treat it like a regular season. It's a new season. So we got to treat it like a new season. It's zero-zero. We're trying to be 1-0.
Q. Reuben and Dalvin, how much of a relationship did you have with Coach Pruitt when you were being recruited before he left and then came back?
DALVIN TOMLINSON: I had a good relationship with Coach Pruitt because he was here my freshman year, my redshirt freshman year. He was a great coach. I loved when he was here the first time, loved when he came back. He's just one of the coaches that's going to always push you and make you the best player you can be.
REUBEN FOSTER: It's not too much about him being a coach, but he's a great role model. He gives me good advice on the field and off the field. He's a good role model.
Q. This is for all you guys because you all play different positions on the field. With the trick plays that they throw in every now and then, is this a defense that can be tricked and how do you avoid getting suckered by one of those?
MINKAH FITZPATRICK: I would say the way you avoid being tricked is just by doing your job. If you look ahead of the play and see what they're doing, you can see that they're coming back and trying to trick you and see the quarterback coming out for a pass or the running back coming out the back field for a pass. Just by just doing your job and knowing what to do.
REUBEN FOSTER: I think it's just taking practice serious and just doing your job and learning the games and schemes they have. You do your job at practice, then you won't have any problem with trick plays.
MARLON HUMPHREY: I think any defense can be tricked, but it's just about discipline, like they said. If you're not doing your job, you can get tricked by something little or something big. We have to be disciplined and trick plays don't work when there's discipline there.
DALVIN TOMLINSON: With trick plays, you just have to execute the game plan and read the keys they give you beforehand, before the play even starts. If you do that and play your job and do what you're supposed to do, I feel like we can stop any trick play.
Q. Minkah, a lot of players like to stay relatively close to home, play in front of family and friends. You've come all the way down from New Jersey to play for Alabama. What was the attraction to play for Alabama, to leave home, to go so far away and to obviously have a lot of success this early in your career?
MINKAH FITZPATRICK: You just know you're going against the best and getting the best every single day, so you're competing against the best receivers, the best offense every single day. So that was going to get me better and now you're going to compete against the best every day. And you get the best coaches every day. So you know, Coach Saban, Coach Anderson, Coach Pruitt, some of the best coaches in the country. You know you're getting the best every single day, why not come to Alabama.