TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Year after year, the tone is the same. Nick Saban, stubborn and strong-willed as ever, opens spring camp at Alabama with a similar message: Forget the past season, forget the championship, forget everything you've done.
"Every year you've got to reinvent your team," he told reporters after the first day of practice three weeks ago.
For the 61-year-old head coach of the defending champions, both eyes are locked firmly on the future. Time spent in the past is time wasted. There are too many more important questions to be considered.
"Who are going to be the leaders?" he asked. "Who are going to be the guys that set an example? Who steps forward as young players who show that they have the responsibility to do a job and be dependable in doing that job so that we have a chance to play winning football with them?"
In the time since Alabama has opened camp, Saban and his staff have been busy. First, assistant coaches like Mario Cristobal (offensive line), Billy Napier (wide receivers) and Greg Brown (secondary) needed to be acclimated to the environment. Then came the position changes. Eleven starters had to be replaced and some weak spots on both sides of the ball needed patching. Running back Dee Hart and wide receivers Christion Jones and Cyrus Jones were moved to cornerback at the start of camp and all three remained there through the Tide's first scrimmage.
But now that Alabama has entered the homestretch -- only six practices remain in the spring -- the outlook of the team is starting to take shape. Ryan Kelly has solidified his role as the team's starter at center, replacing All-American Barrett Jones; Geno Smith is solidifying his spot as the team's No. 2 cornerback, picking up where future first-round pick Dee Milliner left off; and C.J. Mosley is stepping into an even larger role, going from the most popular reserve in the country to a full-time starter for the first time in his already decorated career.
It's a start, Saban said, but not anything more than that. AJ McCarron is his quarterback, T.J. Yeldon is his running back; this much he knows. It's what he doesn't that's bothersome. After Alabama's first scrimmage on Saturday, Saban voiced his frustration. Halfway through the spring, he wasn't seeing the answers he'd liked.
"We're not where we'd love to be or would like to be," he said. " It all starts with guys being able to sustain the kind of mental intensity you need to have to be a good football player, especially when things get a little tough, it gets a little tough, you get a little bit tired. We just don't have the mental toughness we need from enough guys to sustain things, pay attention to detail, and do the little things right so we can execute better as a team."
He continued: "We had some guys play well, but kind of hit and miss right now. We don't have enough guys doing the right things the right way all the time."
Sound familiar? It should. Rewind the tape to this time a year ago and you'll notice the same displeased tone. Whether it's genuine disappointment or a never-ending battle to fight complacency through the press, Saban is nothing if not consistent.
"I’m talking about things like effort, toughness, focus to execute, the kind of intensity you need to do your job on a consistent basis," he said following the Tide's first scrimmage of the spring a year ago.
His message got through then, but will it this time around? With so much success built up over the past few years, can it be sustained?
With it being the spring, the answers to those questions remain unknown. Saban isn't interested in the past and he's not terribly excited about looking that much farther into the future. A-Day is right around the corner and there's too much work to be done for him to take his eye off the ball now.
In Tuscaloosa, it's been as it's always been since Saban arrived: A process.
"We don't have enough guys doing the right things the right way all the time," he said. "That's something we really need to work on. It's a work in progress to try to continue to improve."