MOBILE — No matter where he goes in the state, Alabama coach Nick Saban draws a mob. With hundreds of NFL personnel — including new Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly — in Mobile for Saturday's Senior Bowl, Saban took in the South team's Monday practice at Fairhope Stadium and immediately drew a massive herd of reporters looking for insight from the man who led the Crimson Tide to their third BCS National Championship in four years.
"We do a pretty good job of developing players," Saban said. "But when I say we, that includes a lot of people. Our entire coaching staff, our entire support staff, our athletic director, the entire athletic department. There's a lot of people that contribute to these successes. We're just happy we have the program that has a history of helping players be successful in all of those areas."
Some of the players Saban eluded to will take part in Saturday's game including linebacker Nico Johnson, safety Robert Lester, tight end Michael Williams and long snapper Carson Tinker. Right tackle D.J. Fluker — the first of two juniors to ever take part in the Senior Bowl — weighed in but did not practice and is unlikely to play. All-American guard Chance Warmack passed on the invitation; nose tackle Jesse Williams declined due to injury and Rimington Trophy winner Barrett Jones won't play but is expected to arrive later in the week.
"I've waited a long time to play in this game and it's actually coming true now," said Lester, a native of nearby Foley. "It's great to be home and in front of these guys and inspire these guys to go out there and do the best they can when they're on the field."
Even with all the success Lester had while in Tuscaloosa, he said he still remembers not doing so at the prep level and now his eyes set on the professional stage.
"I wasn't able to win a state championship at high school," he said. "I was able to win three national championships in college. That's the next goal is to go to the NFL and win a Super Bowl, help my team win a Super Bowl."
Tide players weigh-in
Fluker clocked in at a massive 6-foot-4 and 7/8 inches, 355 pounds — two inches shorter and 20 pounds heavier than his listed size at Alabama. Johnson (6-foot-1 and 7/8 inches, 249 pounds) was just over an inch shorter and four pounds heavier than his Alabama list size and Tinker (6-foot and 1/8 inches, 231 pounds) was 7/8 inches shorter and 11 pounds heavier.
Lester (6-foot-1 and 1/4 inches, 212 pounds) was nearly the same as his reported measurable (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) as was Williams (6-foot-5, 3/4; 269 pounds), who was nearly identical to his Alabama listed size (6-foot-6, 269 pounds).
Honey Badger no more says Mathieu
Former LSU cornerback and Heisman Trophy finalist Tyrann Mathieu took in Monday's South team practice to support former teammate Lavar Edwards.
Mathieu, known as the Honey Badger during the 2011 season, was kicked off the LSU team prior to the 2012 season. He has dealt with arrests and abuse of marijuana and said his moniker is no more after he was.
"I'm not the Honey Badger right now, but to all these little kids out here, I'm the Honey Badger to them," he said. "I definitely want to do it the right way this time. I think in my career at LSU, the Honey Badger kind of just came to an abrupt end."
Mathieu said he has been training in Florida and sought the "counsel" of NFL players Corey Webster, Darrelle Revis and former teammate Patrick Peterson. He said the daily words of advice he has received has resonated and a representative from his agency said he may also work with a professional counselor in the near future.
"This is my last shot. You got to know when to do things and when not to do things," Mathieu said. "When to party and when not to party. Every day is football. That's the biggest thing I got out of it – every day is football. I'm ready to live a football life."
Michigan's Robinson no contact
Though Michigan's Denard Robinson is changing from quarterback to receiver, he wore the same yellow no-contact jersey as quarterbacks during Monday's practice.
Still recovering from an elbow injury which plagued him during the season, Robinson said he is optimistic he'll be cleared for contact Tuesday.
"I think (today)," he said.
"Most likely (today). Hopefully (today)."
Inundated with questions about his ability to change from quarterback to wide-out, the former Wolverine said there's no looking back.
"I don't live my life with no regrets," Robinson said. "I made this choice and I got to make the most of it and keep going and work hard. I know I'm a competitor, I want to be the best and I'm going to train like the best."