TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Those looking for a full preview of the defending champs at the University of Alabama's first practice of preseason camp on Friday got more of a teaser. Coach Nick Saban and roughly 50 players took to the Thomas-Drew Practice Fields on a hot, humid morning.
And if 50 players sounds slim to you, it should. Only the veterans took the field, with the younger, inexperienced players getting their first crack later in the day at the second of the two-a-day session.
The reason, coach Nick Saban said, was to give freshmen a chance to get their feet wet without the pressure of being surrounded by teammates that already know the ins and outs of practice.
"I always thought it was good in the old days when you could practice with the freshmen for a few practices so that you could sort of teach them and sort of eliminate some of their anxieties about going out to practice the first time," he said. "This way if we can take 50 players to practice this morning and 50 players to practice tonight, all the young players will be able to practice tonight."
In an offseason where the Crimson Tide must replace a number of starters from last year's team, the concentration will be on the youth. That makes the month before the start of the season that much more important as the coaching staff attempts to integrate a number of first-year players on both sides of the ball.
"When you have a young team, I think you're going to basically do how well your team learns to execute on a consistent basis," Saban said. "That's probably one of the biggest goals we have."
Nico Johnson remembers being one of the rookies trying to find his way in Tuscaloosa. The senior linebacker said it's an adjustment, no matter how much work you put in during the summer.
"The speed is different, the tempo is different, different coaching staff, so everything is different," Johnson said. "But it’s still football. We try our best to make our young guys feel at home, try to make them feel as comfortable as we can."
About one-third of the 2012 signing class enrolled early and took snaps during spring practice. Several top recruits like Landon Collins, Eddie Williams and Cyrus Jones reported for the start of fall camp Thursday. All three are expected to have a shot at making an impact right away.
"We're going to have a lot of young players, a lot of opportunity for a lot of young players to play and have a role on the team," Saban said. "How well they learn and mature as players so that they can play with the consistency of performance that's going to allow us to play with a high standard is going to be the key to how quickly this team develops."
Senior safety Robert Lester said it's no easy task to make an impact early in your career, but it's not impossible. Lester broke onto the scene his sophomore year with an SEC-best eight interceptions.
"Oh, yeah, anybody can, if you pay attention to details, like Coach Saban says, and execute the game plan," Lester said. "Just do what 's expected of you. Go out and work hard and finish the play, anything s possible.
"I wouldn 't be surprised if they do go out and make it this year."
Eddie Lacy, the presumptive starting tailback, was back at full speed in his first practice since the regular season. The junior from Louisiana played most of last year with a nagging turf toe injury that was addressed over the offseason with surgery.
"He did everything today," Saban said of Lacy. "He doesn't have any issues or problems. He went through this summer and worked through the rehab and worked his way up to what everybody else was doing in the summer conditioning program.
"He hasn't done a lot of cutting. That will be sort of what will be the next test."
Another player who missed spring practice returned to the field with Lacy. Arie Kouandjio, a reserve offensive lineman, spent his spring on the training bike, but removed the black no-contact shirt Friday.
"He actually did a lot better in the summer than we anticipated," Saban said. "… We're hopeful that he will continue to progress and be ready to play in the first game, but that's going to be day-to-day evaluation to see how he can sustain the workload."
Back at it
AJ McCarron spoke for most of his teammates when he said how happy he was to be back on the practice field. After a summer of 7-on-7 games and passing academies, the junior quarterback was back at work with new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier.
With just he and backup Phillip Ely taking snaps, McCarron got to stretch out his arm on Day 1.
"We threw it a lot, but there’s no pitch count," McCarron said. "I just go out there and practice. You’re going to be tired in the game. The biggest thing is when you get tired, like coach Nuss always preaches, ‘Finish with your legs.’ "
With the top four pass-catchers gone from a season ago, McCarron has enjoyed the extra work with his new receivers this offseason.
"It definitely helps," McCarron said. "You’ve got to get in as much time as possible. Having the summer definitely doesn’t hurt in any way. It definitely does good for you.
"Team chemistry grew over the summer. Lot of young guys learned a lot of things in that short period of time. Hopefully, it’ll help them throughout camp."