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Crimson Tide moving past last season's sour finish

AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- When Alabama’s players and coaches walked from the locker room to the practice field for the first day of preseason camp on Thursday, they were greeted by a new piece of wall art. In bold letters it read: “No excuses.”

It was ironic, considering the grief Nick Saban has taken in recent weeks for what some have described as his excuses why his team didn’t fare better in a playoff loss to No. 4 seed Ohio State.

Some players were distracted by the possibility of the NFL, Saban claimed at SEC media days. Maybe they were “out of gas” after a long regular season, he posited. Linebacker Reggie Ragland said the defense simply didn’t take Buckeyes QB Cardale Jones seriously enough.

But that was last season.

Two years removed from their last national championship, the Crimson Tide are hitting reset on their quest to become the top team in college football.

Ragland is back to lead the defense, along with future NFL linemen A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed and Jonathan Allen. On offense, center Ryan Kelly and offensive tackle Cam Robinson return.

But there are just as many questions as answers, whether it’s who steps up at receiver, how things shake out in the secondary or the proverbial elephant in the room of who wins out at starting quarterback.

"We don’t have a depth chart now," Saban said, guarding against expectations. "I tell the players that all the time. You think I just tell you that, I tell the players that. So it’s up to every guy to go out there and prove that he can play winning football at his position."

Saban said he's pleased with his initial impression of the team.

"It was a good first practice," he said. "One of the things that we've tried to establish with our players is creating and establishing an identity as a team when it comes to toughness, effort, relentless competitive spirit, how we compete in games."

Maybe that hard-nosed attitude wasn't there last season. Maybe it cost them a shot at the national championship.

But even if that's the case, Alabama is done making excuses.

Personnel update

Alvin Kamara left the program after an arrest, Altee Tenpenny transferred and Tyren Jones was dismissed.

If the 2013 signing class had panned out and those three players had stayed, Alabama would be loaded at running back. But the only one left is junior Derrick Henry.

Senior Kenyan Drake is the only experienced tailback behind him, and he’s returning from a season-ending injury.

True freshman Bo Scarbrough was expected to become the team’s third tailback, but he tore his ACL in the spring. Now he's in a race against the rehab timetable and an NCAA suspension.

Saban said Scarbrough is “ahead of schedule” but limited.

“We sort of don't want to hit him,” Saban said. “He'll probably be awhile before he can play. I don't envision him playing in the first four games. He's suspended for the first four games anyway, but I don't think he'll be able to play because of the injury. Our target for him is to be able to practice, increase his workload over the next what amounts to two months and hopefully by the end of September he'll be able to start making a contribution.”

Other than Scarbrough, Saban updated the status of defensive lineman Josh Casher and wideouts Raheem Falkins and Cam Sims.

Casher tore his pectoral muscle and is out “a few more weeks,” but Saban couldn't give a definitive timetable on Falkins (fractured leg) and Sims (torn ACL), whom he said are rehabbing.

Quotable

At Alabama, it’s championship or bust. Just read this short exchange from senior center Ryan Kelly.

“The ultimate goal never changes: win a national championship,” he said. “Obviously if you don’t get there or you get there and you lose, there’s nothing you can do about it that year, but it leaves a salty taste in your mouth and that’s one of those things we keep going back to.”

So how hungry is this team?

“The hungriest. There are enough guys here that haven’t even won a bowl game, not even a national championship. The way we go all season long dominating and then go to the last game and everybody falls apart. But that’s one of the biggest things we’ve gotten back to and I can see the change in the coaching staff and the players too.”

Do you ever feel the need to remind people you won the SEC last year?

“I look at the ring every now and then, and it doesn’t feel like we won. It doesn’t. At the time it was an awesome feeling, we get a chance to go play Ohio State. But then after we lost to Ohio State, it was like all that season was for nothing.

“I’m not going to say it was -- the season was awesome, it was a great time, it was a lot of fun, there were a lot of great players on the team. It just does something to all the progress you’ve made.”

Scenes from camp