TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – It's becoming an August tradition at Alabama. Coach Nick Saban and the veterans head out in the steamy summer heat to open camp and then return to the air conditioning to put a chill on the preseason hype.
The two-time defending national champions hit the practice fields for the first time on Friday — veterans in the morning, newcomers in the evening — a day after Saban's peers declared them a lopsided preseason No. 1 in the coaches poll.
Saban didn't bother waiting for reporters to bring it up. In fact, he strongly discouraged it.
"You're probably going to ask me about all this stuff, and I'm just going to say this once: Any preseason poll really doesn't mean a lot relative to the season," he said. "We appreciate the recognition. We understand the reason that we have these things, to enhance the entertainment business. So you guys have something to talk about and write about.
"But the fact of the matter is, every team is doing exactly what we're doing right now. Everybody can get good results or bad results based on what they do. And there's not any teams in the country that have really accomplished anything as a team this year. They're really not entitled to anything. The achievements that we have are going to be determined by what we do."
Saban did say Alabama had fewer players fail the preseason conditioning test than ever before. He said the same thing last year, and the Tide wound up winning a third BCS title in four years with a rout of Notre Dame in Miami.
The players parroted his message of, Yeah, but what have we done lately?
"Personally, I don't know what everybody else does, but I try not to listen to any of that stuff," left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio said. "I don't want to watch ESPN. I don't do none of that because pride comes before the fall. We just need the same attitude that we have been having for years — that we haven't accomplished anything. It's a brand new team, it's a brand new year."
Added safety HaHa Clinton-Dix: "We don't really look at rankings. I look at what we earned, or deserved, honestly."
Even if for entertainment purposes only, the buzz and talk of preseason rankings and titles aren't going away. They've become part of the ritual in Tuscaloosa this time of year.
That's not to say there aren't some questions the Tide must answer before facing Virginia Tech Aug. 31 in Atlanta — or visiting Texas A&M two weeks later.
The Tide must replace three NFL first-round picks, three starting offensive lineman, tailback Eddie Lacy and noseguard Jessie Williams among others.
Then again, Alabama has 13 starters returning and another group of highly rated recruits on campus. Five-star receiver Robert Foster is among them, Saban said, after retaking a class this summer to become eligible.
Alabama did lose one signee when defensive lineman Darius Paige failed his physical. Saban, who said he couldn't elaborate, said Paige was medically disqualified but remains at Alabama on scholarship.
He also said tight end Malcolm Faciane is suspended "for behavior reasons."
"He can return if he does the things he's supposed to do at some point in the future," Saban said.
Six-foot-7, 270-pound defensive lineman LaMichael Fanning is working at tight end at least temporarily. Cyrus Jones, who played wide receiver as a freshman, has been working at cornerback since the spring. Dee Milliner was the No. 9 pick by the Jets.
Saban said Jones is progressing well in the secondary and "right now that's where we're going to try to develop Cyrus."
The coach said his message to the team was to try to get everybody in the proper gear.
"We've got about two-thirds of the guys that really have the right kind of mental energy, the right kind of mental intensity, the right kind of focus, the right kind of understanding of what it takes to play at a high level all the time," Saban said. "And then we've got about a third of the guys who are pretty casual, kind of have a hard time with the mental intensity part of it, especially sustaining it."
"That's usually the case with younger players. That's what we battle, because once you get a guy to do that, then improvement comes quickly."