Nico Johnson ready for spring to begin

If you're looking for the national championship treatment, Alabama's football facility isn't the place.

Sure, you can see signs of all the national titles the Crimson Tide has won, including the 2011 championship, but there is no feeling of entitlement, as players are finishing up their grueling offseason conditioning program. It's a program that rising senior linebacker Nico Johnson said has been one of the toughest he's had to endure.

The strength coaches have a hold of Alabama's players and are sweating out all that leftover national championship glee with the exhausting four quarter program. The idea is to increase your mental stamina, while breaking your body down with tons of conditioning.

"It's just a whole bunch of running for about an hour. That's about it," Johnson said with a laugh.

Mondays and Wednesdays, Johnson said players are lucky enough to participate in fun runs, like sprinting 80 yards, walking to the end zone and then sprinting back. That goes on for 12 rounds before Tide players head into agility drills. Tuesdays and Fridays are made up of different demanding drills at multiple stations.

The first week isn't so bad, Johnson said, but the second week is awful, as your body starts to concede to your mind, which left days ago.

"That's probably the hardest part — trying to keep your mind right so you can push through it," Johnson said.

When asked how he'd describe Alabama's offseason program, Johnson hesitated with his answer and dribbled a few broken sentences out of his mouth before going the politically correct route.

"I would have to say 'fun' because I can't say anything else," he joked.

But as much as Johnson and his teammates hate the draining drills, he knows they're worth it, especially this year. This team is riding high off of a national championship, which means that complacency can set in (just look at 2010 for Alabama). Like 2010, Alabama lost some key components to a top-notch defense.

Johnson doesn't want 2012 to mimic Alabama's three-loss 2010 or the uncharacteristic break the defense showed at times. In order to make sure Alabama's defense doesn't fall too far from last year's historic performance, Johnson is increasing his leadership role and recruiting others to as well. He wants to not only lead by his play but by his words.

With more youngsters around the defense, Johnson said he's tried to keep the focus of the defense steady. He's looking to motivate players to be better than their predecessors. He's also making sure that he's the voice of this team.

Johnson admitted there were times last year when players didn't stand up and say anything when things went wrong. The silence became disruptive, Johnson said.

With Alabama opening camp in a couple of days, Johnson said he's been impressed with the differences he's seen between this defense and 2010's. The work ethic and the attitudes are better and while the criticism will no doubt be there for Alabama's defense, Johnson said he's excited to see what this group can do this spring and beyond.

"Everybody looks like they're tuned in already," he said. "I can't wait to see what happens in the spring and the fall."