Despite winning the SEC and playing for the national title, last season 'a rebuilding year,' Alabama's Nick Saban says

Despite winning the SEC, beating Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl and competing in the College Football Playoff National Championship game, Alabama coach Nick Saban looked back on last season Wednesday and called it "kind of a rebuilding year."

While it's true that Alabama had to replace a number of starters last season -- including a quarterback who was drafted in the first round in Mac Jones and a Heisman Trophy-winning receiver in DeVonta Smith -- it didn't lead to a dip in production.

Bryce Young took over for Jones and won the Heisman in his first season as a starter. Meanwhile, Ohio State transfer Jameson Williams stepped in at receiver, caught 15 touchdowns and was named a first-team All-American.

Young is back for his junior season, but Williams is gone after being drafted in the first round by the Detroit Lions.

Appearing on WJOX in Birmingham, Saban said they "should have" had nine starters back on both offense and defense, but six players turned pro early, creating "question marks."

"But it also creates opportunity for other players to be able to shine in the program and be able to contribute in a positive way," Saban said. "So nobody knows for sure how this stuff is going to come to fruition, but that's part of the excitement and challenge we have to be able to develop a team."

Alabama also welcomes back outside linebacker Will Anderson Jr., a possible top pick in next year's draft. He led the country in sacks and tackles for loss last season.

The Crimson Tide, who are the overwhelming media pick to win the SEC this season, open fall camp Thursday. It starts the season at home against Utah State on Sept. 3.

From a big-picture standpoint, Saban told WJOX, he's looking to see if his team will have the leadership and "competitive character" it needs.

"All those things are really important to developing into the kind of team that you're capable of being," Saban said.