TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The offseason hasn’t been perfect for the University of Alabama football team, but the notion of it being quiet in terms of distractions came to an end Saturday with the DUI arrest of Da’Shawn Hand.
The senior defensive end’s status is unclear heading into the start of Alabama’s training camp on Thursday. It could remain that way for a while, because coach Nick Saban always handles discipline issues internally.
Based on how Saban has handled previous situations, no one should yet rule Hand in or out for the season opener against Florida State in Atlanta on Sept. 2. Hand might still have an opportunity to suit up, assuming he does everything required of him in a timely fashion.
“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.”
With a situation like this, there’s usually a meeting between Saban and the player, where they discuss what he did wrong, how he can rectify the situation, and what can be learned earned from it. Two additional factors are important: timing and previous behavior.
Since 2012, safety Geno Matias-Smith (twice), linebacker Dillon Lee, defensive lineman Jarran Reed, reserve kicker Gunnar Raborn and offensive lineman Alphonse Taylor all had DUI arrests, along with strength and conditioning coach and former player Josh Chapman.
Only two of the scholarship players were suspended for a game — Smith and Taylor.
Smith, who is now an analyst for the Crimson Tide, was suspended for the 2013 opener against Virginia Tech, played just two weeks after being arrested. His second arrest was in March 2015. He wasn’t suspended for the 2015 opener months later.
Taylor was arrested last year on July 17, with Saban immediately announcing he was “indefinitely suspended from the team.”
Taylor, who had started all 15 games of the previous season at right guard, was eventually found not guilty of DUI in August 2016, but remained suspended for the season opener against Southern California. Lester Cotton, then a sophomore with four games of playing experience, made his first career start.
Saban keeps things close to the vest, as in 2014 when Reed, defensive lineman Brandon Ivory and linebacker Tim Williams were all suspended for violating team rules. He said: “Each guy can return to the team on completion of the requirement of what they have to do relative to their suspension, and I have no date that I can give you that that’s going to be completed.”
Saban was more blunt the previous year when asked about a suspension to safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix after receiving a small loan from an assistant strength and conditioning coach (although in that situation the NCAA was involved): “Ha Ha’s suspended until we make an announcement that he’s not.” Clinton-Dix ended up missing two games.
More telling was how Saban handled starting left tackle Cam Robinson and reserve safety Hootie Jones last May, when they faced weapons and drug charges in their hometown of Monroe, La.
The Ouachita Parish district attorney’s office declined to prosecute. KNOE 8 News secured documents indicating that Alabama’s punishment included suspensions, weekly drug tests, regular drug counseling, monthly video appointments with a mental health consultant, gun safety education and 20 hours of community service.
Robinson spent at least 26 hours riding along with the Northport Police Department, while Jones spent 21 days in a drug rehab program, the documents said.
Both played against Southern Cal. Robinson went on to be named a team captain and won the Outland Trophy as college football’s best interior lineman.
Alabama’s other significant offseason issue was with reserve safety Deionte Thompson missing A-Day after a warrant was issued regarding a spring break assault in Texas. Saban said in June: “As far as I know, there’s never been any charges and nothing’s really ever happened,” as Thompson had rejoined teammates for summer workouts.
Hand, a unanimous 5-star prospect in 2014 who is now 21, has played 30 games as a reserve. After making 21 tackles with 3.5 for loss and two sacks, 5 quarterback hurries and 1 forced fumble last season, he’s expected to be a starter.
Defensive line is one area the Crimson Tide doesn’t have much returning experience after several departures the last two years, including 2016 starters Jonathan Allen and Dalvin Tomlinson.
Junior Da’Ron Payne is the only returning starter, with junior college transfer Isaiah Buggs poised to challenge for the other spot. The rest of the unit includes Josh Frazier, Quinnen Williams, Raekwon Davis, Johnny Dwight and Jamar King, while true freshmen LaBryan Ray and Phidarian Mathis arrived over the summer.
With the looming showdown against FSU in a possible No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup, Saban’s eventual decision will draw a lot of attention and criticism regardless of his decision, but he does have a strong history of giving both players and coaches a second chance.
“Absolutely, and he will never stop being that,” former LSU player Marcus Spears told Bleacher Report last year. “The one thing that kills him [emotionally], is when he gives a guy a second chance and he doesn’t get it.”