Even before Da’Shawn Hand’s mishap, Alabama had little room for error.
Even before Paul Finebaum fumed about Nick Saban’s approach to discipline, the Crimson Tide enjoyed little slack before a wicked season opener against Florida State on Sept. 2.
Now the skilled defensive end’s status for a monster showdown in Atlanta is uncertain. Even if Hand plays against the Seminoles — the right choice would be to suspend him — his DUI arrest Saturday will be recalled as a needless distraction before one of the fall’s biggest games. If he doesn’t appear, the development will be an obvious blow to Alabama’s chances of stopping a dangerous Florida State offense within the brightest spotlight college football’s opening weekend has to offer.
Hand’s lapse in judgment is a setback for Alabama and a reminder of how concerned the Crimson Tide should be about what they will face at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“This type of behavior is not acceptable and we are disappointed in Da’Shawn’s actions,” Saban said in a statement Saturday. “We are still gathering information and will evaluate what we need to do in terms of appropriate discipline as we move forward, so better choices and decisions can be made in the future.”
Look, Saban needed this as much as a bowl full of tacks to chew. The Crimson Tide are prepping for a mammoth opponent in what likely will be a matchup of two top 5 teams, not some marshmallow foe from the Sun Belt Conference.
The level of concern would be different if Alabama were entering the countdown to Fresno State or Colorado State game week. But at a time when the Crimson Tide must be focused on the jumbo-sized challenge presented by Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, Saban’s program must deal with a totally avoidable curveball as July turns to August.
So much for those slow summer days before fall camp begins in Tuscaloosa.
For Alabama, the Hand situation amounts to being hit by a pitch in batting practice before facing heat from a Cy Young Award contender. After all, Hand is expected to become a significant presence on a thinned defensive front that no longer includes Jonathan Allen and Dalvin Tomlinson.
All, ahem, hands are needed on deck as soon as possible.
Hand doesn’t boast the pedigree of either Allen or Tomlinson, but he has potential to leave his mark in the coming months. Hand produced 21 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss with 5 quarterback hurries last season as a junior. Saban would sweat a whole lot less with the former 5-star recruit from Woodbridge, Va., chasing shifty Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois than with the player kicking his heels off the field after a nonsensical unforced error.
Granted, Saban’s discipline history at Alabama shows that Hand could receive a chance to play in the season opener. But doing so with the incident happening this close to fall camp, with so many eyes watching what Saban will do, would be a mistake that would cost the coach in the court of public opinion. Hand isn’t worth that headache.
No matter how Saban would spin the message, it would be fair to view Hand playing against Florida State as a choice that placed Alabama’s best interests above all else.
“This is a very serious allegation. Driving under the influence … come on,” Finebaum said on ESPN on Sunday. “We all know the dangers of that. I’m not going to stand here on some pedestal. But this close to training camp, to the beginning of the season, I think this ought to be an automatic one-game suspension at the minimum.”
Finebaum is right, but there’s another angle to this story: Hand put Saban in a no-win situation at the worst possible time.
No matter which path the coach chooses this close to kickoff against Florida State, Alabama will be harmed to some degree when it reaches Atlanta. No matter the direction taken, the outcome should concern anyone who allows “Roll Tide” to roll off his or her tongue before an opener that will test Saban’s team mentally and physically.
Alabama always knew facing Florida State would be difficult.
Now, thanks to Hand, the Crimson Tide will learn if they can handle adversity a month earlier than expected, with all of it avoidable.