When Alabama coach Nick Saban left the Heisman Trophy ceremonies with running back Mark Ingram last December, he put three questions to the newly crowned winner:
"Is this going to change you?"
"How are you going to respond to people, because they are going to act differently toward you?"
"What are you going to do to affect other people because of the status you've gained by winning this?"
Almost four months later, Saban could have been asking the very same questions to his entire football team after the Crimson Tide ran the table in 2009, winning the national championship.
"Obviously, things around here have changed from last year to this year," Saban said.
Despite those 13 national championships the school boasts of having won, this is new territory for this group.
"What we have to do now is adapt," Saban said. "Our players have to adapt, to change or be changed by these new circumstances.
"I don't think there is any question that this is the most challenging (situation), from a human nature standpoint. ... No question, I think it's easier, sometimes, to deal with adversity. And players usually respond better when they lose than when they win."
The Tide will be talented, and with an offense that returns nearly intact from last year, the burden will be on that side of the ball to carry the team while a new defensive unit catches up.
However, given the depth and talent on defense, "catching up" won't take very long.
Saban was asked what kind of response he's seen from Ingram since that December evening when Saban posed those three questions.
"We told (Ingram) he's going to be evaluated on what he does in the future," Saban said. "The award he won was based on what he did in the past. And if he has other goals and aspirations as a football player, it will come from what he does in the future.
"And he's done pretty well with that."
Now, the rest of the team needs to do the same.NOTES, QUOTES
SPRING OBJECTIVES: Rebuilding the secondary will be the priority this spring. Not only are three of four starters gone, but so are most of the nickel and dime backs. Strong safety Mark Barron returns, giving the unit a solid leader. But Robby Green, expected to start at free safety, has been suspended. That opens up opportunities for talented but inexperienced players like Rod Woodson, Robert Lester, Dre Kirkpatrick, B.J. Scott, and Phelon Jones, as well as two highly touted true freshmen who enrolled in January: DeMarcus Milliner and John Fulton.
The defensive line has to be rebuilt with three starters gone. But DE Marcel Dareus is ready to become a star, and Josh Chapman and Kerry Murphy will fill in nicely at nose guard, with Luther Davis expected to get first shot at the other defensive end spot.
Alabama loses veterans at place-kicker, punter, snapper, holder, and all kick returns. Freshman kicker Cade Foster enrolled in January, while freshman punter Jay Williams won't arrive until August. Julio Jones backed up Javier Arenas returning punts, and RB Trent Richardson could emerge as the leading kickoff returner
BUILDING BLOCKS: The offensive line is a strength with the most depth since Nick Saban has been the head coach. Alfred McCullough, Tyler Love and D.J. Fluker will compete for the starting right tackle spot. Chance Warmack, John Michael Boswell and David Ross lead the left-guard contenders -- unless right guard and future All-American Barrett Jones is moved to the left side. Center William Vlachos had postseason foot surgery. Ross was the backup center last season. Will he snap the ball this spring or compete at guard?
In the backfield, QB Greg McElroy is efficient and a winner -- he hasn't lost a game as a starter since middle school. Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram returns at tailback, along with Trent Richardson. And at wide receiver, Julio Jones and Marquis Maze are the starting points for a group of pass-catchers that is deeper than ever.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "There will be a lot of opportunities in a lot of places for a lot of different players to show what they can do because of some of the players we lost. And some young players who have not played will have the opportunity to play and a chance to prove what they can do." -- Alabama coach Nick Saban.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: Top recruiting classes are paying off as Alabama is replacing All-Americans with future All-Americans. While Rolando McClain will be difficult to replace at linebacker, Dont'a Hightower has the potential to be even more of an impact player. Hightower, injured for most of the 2009 season, can drop down to become a pass-rushing end or drop back and cover a slot receiver one-on-one. And what the secondary lacks in experience, it makes up for in talent. When Nick Saban says he wants Alabama to be competing for national championships on a consistent basis, he means every year -- this year included.
CB DeMarcus Milliner and CB John Fulton -- These true freshmen were projected as the top two cornerback prospects in the nation. Either -- or both -- could start for the Tide. Both are better athletes than what Alabama has had, although learning the Nick Saban defense will take time.
--LB Dont'a Hightower appeared to be full speed early in spring practice, coming back from reconstructive knee surgery. He was lining up at Rolando McClain's former middle linebacker position, with Nico Johnson on the weak side. Hightower can be expected to fill numerous roles at different times.
"I feel great," Hightower said after the second practice of the spring. "This is supposed to take a year for it to heal exactly, but I feel like I didn't even have surgery. ... I could play a game right now."
Hightower had been cleared to participate fully in practices and possibly scrimmages.
--DE Milton Talbert and C William Vlachos were remained in black, no-contact jerseys early in spring. Vlachos is likely out for all of spring after undergoing foot surgery.
--OL Darius McKeller will finish his career on medical scholarship, according to head coach Nick Saban. McKeller signed with Alabama in 2009 but delayed his enrollment until January. McKeller has what Saban called a "traumatic wrist injury" that has included several surgeries that failed to improve the situation.
--CB Dre Kirkpatrick has a chance to be that "shut-down" cornerback that Nick Saban loves but hasn't really had in three seasons at Alabama. He played in every game as a true freshman and improved dramatically.
Previous Report: 04/11/2010