HOOVER, Ala. — Reggie Ragland knows Kevin Steele’s eyes better than most.
When he’d run off the field, he would look into them. When he’d run on the field, he would look into them. When he was on the field, he would look into them.
Those days are over for Ragland, Alabama’s senior linebacker, and Steele, his former position coach who’s now running LSU’s defense.
It doesn’t mean that the two have stopped all communication. They talk regularly.
“That’s my dog,” Ragland said Wednesday during Alabama’s time at Southeastern Conference media days.
The Alabama-LSU rivalry didn’t need any more connections to spice up what’s been a nearly decade-long top-15 battle, but it got one when Steele left his position in January as Bama’s linebackers coach to replace John Chavis as LSU’s defensive coordinator.
Six months later, Ragland sat at a podium in the Wynfrey Hotel on Wednesday answering questions about the departure of a coach with whom he clearly bonded and hated to see leave.
“I still call him to this day,” he said. “He taught me a lot.”
Ragland and Bama will meet Steele and LSU on Nov. 7, and there’s no telling what the Crimson Tide will look like. Ragland is one of the rare returning hotshots on a team that’s missing the key pieces of last season’s conference championship squad.
Amari Cooper, the Biletnikoff Award winner as the nation’s best receiver in 2014.
Blake Sims, the Tide’s dual-threat quarterback who set the program’s passing yards record last year.
T.J. Yeldon, Bama’s fourth all-time career rusher, who had 979 yards in 2014.
Landon Collins, the big-hitting safety from Louisiana who led the team in tackles last season and was picked in the second round of the NFL draft this spring.
“This year’s team has its challenges, like all teams do,” Bama coach Nick Saban said. “In college football, you probably lose 25 percent of your team every year, which is what makes it great, makes it fun to rebuild, but this year, especially on offense, we’re going to have a lot of new faces. We have some talented players. They don’t have a lot of experience.”
That includes quarterback.
Alabama is in a similar place as LSU in that regard. Two players are slugging it out, and there doesn’t really seem to be one real leader.
Redshirt freshman David Cornwell, a highly recruited, 6-foot-5 guy from Oklahoma, is on the heels of Florida State transfer Jake Coker, a 6-5, 230-pound senior. Neither has started a college game — a similar situation to last July for the Tide.
“If you look at last year going into the season, we didn’t really know who the starting quarterback would be,” Bama offensive lineman Ryan Kelly said. “Would it be Blake (Simms)? Would it be Jake (Coker)?”
“We do not have an experienced player at that position,” Saban said of the quarterbacks. “We did not have one last year.”
He’s got one in the middle of his defense.
Ragland finished second on the team with 95 tackles and third with 10.5 for loss in his first season as a starter in 2014. He passed on the NFL draft to return for another season despite his position coach leaving for the Tigers.
“Coach Steele was always there for me,” Ragland said. “He coaches the heck out of his players. He taught me to be a better man on the field.”
Ragland and the Tide will attempt to win a fifth straight game against LSU this year.
Some, like Bama running back Kenyan Drake, didn’t have much to say about Steele. After all, the coach is no longer wearing Crimson.
“He’s a very knowledgeable person,” Drake said in a two-sentence answer when asked about Steele. “And I wish him the best of luck at LSU.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.