Filtering the noise

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Nick Saban is doing his best to keep expectations in check. After just two days of practice, he's done with any questions of what might happen or what might be expected of a team that won the national championship a season ago.

In fact, any comparisons between 2011 and now might be best checked at the door.

"You guys are going to have all these comparison questions, and where you're ranked, and how many games you're going to win, and what's going to happen to this player, which guy is going make the biggest impact on the team," Saban remarked. "All these predictions that you all make, they hijack the game."

For a team replacing more than a dozen starters that are now in NFL camps, the expectations at Alabama are high. That's borne from a number of returning starters, consecutive years of the top recruiting classes in the country, and a coach who's won two titles in three years. But part of winning is leaving those wins in the past, where they belong, and ignoring the hype that comes from them, Saban said.

"That sort of creates a risk-aversive, I-don't-want-to-mess-up attitude and makes it more difficult for them to just be free and go compete and play hard," Saban said.

Then Saban, always the master of staying on message, called on one of the most successful marketing campaigns of all time.

"You go back to the old Nike commercial: 'Just do it,' " Saban said. "In some cases that's what we're trying to get our players to do, just do it. Because playing fast, playing hard, being aggressive, that kind of mental energy is really important to being a good player."

While his message began by chiding the media, it became clear where his aimed lied. The players, the ones reading their own press clippings, were his target.

"A good analogy is do you want to be a thermometer, which sort of goes up and down with the circumstances around it? Or do you want to be the thermostat who creates the same temperature all the time with consistency you can count on, depend on, trust in, believe in?" Saban asked.

All that came from his opening remarks. Message delivered.

Senior defensive end Damion Square chimed in later and reinforced his coach's mindset: "You have to have a reality check and realize you need to get better at something. We watch film every day and watch mistakes and see good things on film. You can't become complacent as a player no matter what watch list you're on."

"You have to come out here and reanalyze yourself as a player besides what all the accolades say and get better. Whoever that guy may be, you have to get better on that particular day. You have to put that to the side because it really doesn't win games."

Coordinators get their day
For the first and possibly last time all season, the coordinators got to step up the mic and talk about the job ahead of them. Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who was hired away from Washington in January, had what accounted to his introductory press conference and noted that things in Alabama are indeed different from where he's been before.

The reach of the program goes from the deep South all the way to the far corner of the Northeast.

"Alabama speaks for itself," Nussmeier said. "It's a special place."

The difference spills onto the practice field where his offense goes head to head on a daily basis with a defense that's consistently been one of the top producers in the country.

"You see so many different looks and exposes you to the mindset that you need to be looking at every play you're running, and you learn really fast what strengths and weaknesses you have," Nussmeier said. "… When you practice against that group, it's very challenging every day. It's exciting. It's competition, and anything you do with competition you get better."

Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, who is entering his sixth season at Alabama, echoed Nussmeier's sentiment.

"[Nussmeier] does a great job offensively," Smart said. "I really enjoy that they give us a couple other personnel groupings, more than coach [Jim] McElwain used.

"They do a good job in the passing game. It's very innovative. They kind of have an answer for everything you do, so it's always a chess match."

An 'unsung hero'
Tight end Michael Williams might not be a household name, but the impact he makes is felt throughout the offense. The 6-foot-6 native of Reform, Ala., is what Saban called an "unsung hero" on the football field.

"He's a really good blocker," Saban said. "He's a big, physical guy. He does have good hands in the passing game and can be a factor in the passing game. I think he's probably been a little bit of an unsung hero for us in terms of the number of starts that he's had, and the quality of his performance goes a little unnoticed because of the nature of his role.

Williams caught just 16 passes for 191 yards as a junior, and with the top four pass-catchers now gone from a season ago, the opportunity to improve his bottom line is now.

"He's very capable to add some things to the passing game as well," Saban added. "He's done that probably as consistently as anybody in our program."