TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- In many ways, the start of bowl practice resembles spring and fall camp. While there aren't as many position battles going on, there is a return to an emphasis on fundamentals. The thought of facing Notre Dame hasn't quite set it. Alabama is focused on Alabama, and shaking the rust off from a few weeks away from the football field.
"It can accumulate in two days," said guard Chance Warmack. "That’s how football is. If you don’t do it every day, it starts to get really hard to getting back to how you were."
So while the world measures the tale of the tape, weighing the Alabama offensive line versus the Notre Dame defensive line, running backs versus linebackers, wide receivers against defensive backs, and so on, the University of Alabama campus does not participate. The hive mentality exists even as Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban prepares to lead his team to Miami for the BCS National Championship.
If there's anything particular that Saban is emphasizing in practice and team meetings, he's keeping it quiet.
"If there was, I wouldn't be telling you," Saban said with a smile on Tuesday night, his first news conference since beating Georgia in the SEC title game Dec. 1. "What we want to do is do the things that we do well and get back to doing those things well. We've done a lot of work on the quality control of things that we need to improve on the season, so those things will certainly be points of emphasis for us."
Saban's tone and singular focus shouldn't come as much of a surprise to those that follow the program. His ability to keep his players focused on "The Process" and not the opponent cannot be understated. Even with rumors of an NFL coaching job searches targeting him, he would barely recognize the distraction.
"We're really, really pleased and happy to be here," Saban said when about his level of contentment coaching the college game. "We've been able to accomplish a lot. But like I've talked about before this is a work in progress all the time. You've got to stay focused on the process to try to continue to make the next game the most important game, the next season the most important season, developing the team every year..."
There was The Process again, even in the middle of a championship run.
"...We certainly look forward to those challenges," Saban continued. "I'm not sure, regardless of what I say, that anybody believes what I say, because I say it all the time. This is what we're happy doing. This is what we like to do. But nobody really believes that. So, you know, maybe it doesn't matter."
What matters inside the hive is not as big as an NFL future -- Saban was asked whether we would hear of a handful of juniors' intent to turn pro and said flatly, "probably not" -- or even as large as Notre Dame. What matters in Tuscaloosa are the little things, the fundamentals of the game.
"It’s all about fundamentals, the basics," Warmack said. "If you don’t know the basics, then you can’t really carry on the game plan of how you execute plays going against a defense. Once you know the basics and you get used to the basics again, it won’t be hard for you to learn the plays."
It might not be exciting, but that's the way Saban and his players like it. Redshirt senior defensive end Damion Square has played in a bowl game each of the seasons he's been at Alabama, going 3-1 with two national championships.
"From my experience, and I’ve played in a lot of bowl games, a lot of BCS games at this place, that’s the best way to do it," he said. "I can’t really tell you why. I guess you try different combinations and see how the players react the best and through the years of trying it different ways this is the best outcome we have had, so we’ll do it again.”
Barrett Jones put it best. The senior center said it's not about Notre Dame, this season or the past. At Alabama, it comes down to the simple things like tackling, blocking and playing pitch-and-catch. Do those things right and you're likely to come out on top no matter the circumstances or the opponent, he said.
"As usual, we’re going back to the basics. We’re focusing on us this week and really not working a whole lot on our opponent," he said. "We’re just mostly going back to basics because, in the end, that’s usually what the game comes down to, is how well you execute. So we’re almost reinstalling our whole offense, just in a brief way, and going back to some of our basic plays and our basic blocks."