Tide focused on here and now
Barrett Jones still marvels at the sheer talent on the 2010 Alabama football team. It's a team that featured eight eventual first-round draft picks, and that number could grow depending on what happens in next April's NFL draft.
It's also a team that lost three football games and finished fourth in the SEC's Western Division after going 14-0 and winning the national championship the year before.
"There were so many first-rounders on that team, not only that year, but the next year and probably this coming year," said Jones, who won the Outland Trophy last season.
"It's a reminder that it's not about talent. It's about coming together and everyone buying in to our purpose, and that purpose is to dominate our opponents every time we go out."
In retrospect, some complacency set in with that 2010 team coming off the 2009 national championship.
Keep in mind that Alabama coach Nick Saban likes the mere mention of complacency about as much as most of us like dealing with kidney stones. He bristles any time it's even brought up.
In his world, there are two ways to deal with success. Some teams get complacent after winning a title. Others get addicted to everything that goes into winning a title.
Jones and his teammates are banking on this team having a serious addiction to winning based on everything they've seen to this point.
"There are a lot of guys on this team that were on that 2010 team, and they know what that feeling is like," Jones said. "We hated that feeling, and when you have that feeling, it will drive you to work harder and never have that feeling again."
Saban thinks it will only help that Alabama has so many players returning who've seen both sides of the equation.
"We have a rare combination on our team where we have guys who have been on both of those teams, so they kind of understand and learned a little bit about some of the pitfalls as well as some of the things that made us more successful," Saban said. "Hopefully, that leadership will be a benefit to this year's team development and identity."
Good luck getting Saban to even concede that Alabama is defending a national championship.
As he tells his players, that was last year's team. This is this year's team.
"This year's team hasn't accomplished anything," Saban said. "The only thing anybody is going to remember about this year's team is what we go out and do this year. I do like this team's focus, the way it has worked and the way it has gone about its business in doing everything it can to make this their season."
Like Jones, safety Robert Lester is a fifth-year senior with two national championship rings. He saw how selfless the 2009 team was and how driven it was to win a championship.
But once the Crimson Tide tasted that success, he said too many players started thinking more about themselves than about the team.
"The hunger wasn't there [in 2010], and guys were worried about individual goals. It wasn't really about the team," said Lester, who has 10 career interceptions.
"In 2011, that hunger was back, and it's been there all offseason and all summer. When I look around, all I see is guys working and pushing each other. I love the competition on this team. It reminds me of 2009 and 2011, and that's what gives me so much confidence going into the season."
The Crimson Tide have a chance to become the first outright repeat national champion since Nebraska in 1994 and 1995. And no SEC team has won three outright national championships in a span of four seasons.
So a mini-dynasty is there for the taking if Alabama can repeat this season. Senior guard Chance Warmack, though, said that kind of talk simply isn't a point of conversation in the Alabama locker room.
"I really feel like this team isn't worried about the past and isn't worried about anything that might happen in the future," Warmack said. "We're focused on the here and now, and we've all seen around here that if you're serious about winning a championship, that's the way it has to be."
Lester said the refreshing thing about this offseason and preseason is that he hasn't heard a lot of championship talk.
At least, not from the players or coaches.
"First of all, we're not going to put that kind of pressure on ourselves," Lester said. "We'll play it game by game and play by play. I'm already getting questions about the LSU game. I'm not worried about LSU. Our main focus is on Michigan."
In addition to the veterans on this team, Lester said there's a nucleus of talented younger players who've been waiting their turn and are eager to make their own mark.
"I remember what that's like and remember how hungry I was when I got my chance," Lester said. "That's the thing people probably underestimate about this team.
"We have some guys we're just waiting to turn loose."
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