By John Zenor/The Associated Press
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Quarterback AJ McCarron insists Alabama turned its focus to the 2012 season long before opening preseason camp on Friday.
Apparently, coach Nick Saban gives the Crimson Tide a little bonus time to his normal 24-hour limit for celebrations when the victory comes in the national championship game. Just a little.
“I think we had maybe 72 hours and then we were back to, ‘This team hasn’t done anything,'” McCarron said. “Not a whole lot of celebration around here. It doesn’t matter how many you win. Like coach says, ‘It’s not about what you did in the past, it’s what you’re doing right now.’ That’s all anybody cares about.”
Right now, the Crimson Tide is preparing for the Sept. 1 opener with Michigan and seeking replacements for four first-round NFL draft picks and seven defensive starters. Alabama started camp with separate practices for veterans and newcomers, but the players had already aced one big test.
They recently went through the annual physical test including bench-pressing and a series of sprints. Those who passed got a little break before the preseason grind started.
“This is probably the best test results that we’ve ever gotten from our performance in terms of quality performance on the test,” Saban said.
He takes that as evidence that the players put in the work during the summer to get ready for camp so they’re not lagging behind in the brutal August heat. Further proof came when defensive tackle Jesse Williams, who started at end last season, bench-pressed 600 pounds on July 26.
“That says a lot about how hard this team’s working,” Alabama safety Robert Lester said.
There’s plenty remaining to do for a team considered among the preseason favorites nationally once again. Alabama must replace Top 10 picks in tailback Trent Richardson and safety Mark Barron, All-American linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw and both starting cornerbacks.
Plus, the transfer of quarterback Phillip Sims to Virginia leaves the Tide with only redshirt freshman Phillip Ely and freshman Alec Morris vying for the role as McCarron’s backup.
The health of tailback Eddie Lacy, Richardson’s likely successor, is one issue that apparently didn’t linger into camp.
Lacy sat out the spring after undergoing surgery to repair a turf toe injury.
“He doesn’t have any issues or problems,” Saban said. “He went through this summer and worked through the rehab and worked his way up to what everybody else was doing in the summer conditioning program.
“He hasn’t done a lot of cutting. That will be the next test. He took every rep that he was supposed to take in practice today and didn’t seem to have an issue.”
That position sums up Alabama’s situation even where there are apparent voids thanks to Saban’s string of highly rated recruiting hauls. Lacy’s backups include a pair of five-star recruits in freshman T.J. Yeldon — who starred in the spring game after enrolling early — and redshirt freshman Dee Hart. Running back Blake Sims is logging some snaps at quarterback, too.
Barron’s backups Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri return. Saban also brought in junior college cornerbacks Deion Belue and Travell Dixon to compete with players like Dee Milliner, who started at corner as a freshman and was the fifth defensive back last season.
“We don’t look at it like, ‘Mark Barron’s gone. Dont’a Hightower’s gone. ‘We need to replace these guys,'” Lester said. “We look at it as, whoever’s capable of filling those spots and ready to play, they’re going to go out there and play. The talent’s there.
“Coach Saban has recruited great recruiting classes, so we’re not worried about the talent. We just want to play team ball and make sure they buy into the program and can contribute to a win on defense.”