But at the University of Alabama, head coach Nick Saban just reloads.
Last year’s BCS national champions will have some new faces in key places, but the Tide still has a core group of key contributors from last season who should keep it in contention for the school’s third national title in four years.
One of those players is junior quarterback AJ McCarron.
A year ago, McCarron was battling for the starting job with Phillip Sims. McCarron eventually won the spot and got stronger as the season progressed. He finished last season throwing for 2,634 yards and 16 touchdowns, with one of his best performances coming in the national championship game against LSU.
McCarron completed 23 of 34 passes for 234 yards in a 21-0 victory that helped secure the Tide’s 14th national title. He was named the BCS National Championship Offensive Player of the Game.
“I think anytime you have an experienced quarterback there’s a comfort level because there’s so many intangibles that go with being a good quarterback, like judgment, accuracy, timing, leadership to affect other people on the offensive team to execute with a little more consistency,” Saban said. “The experience you have at that position always makes you feel a little bit better about all that. I think the key for us is we’re going to have to develop some depth at that position, but AJ had a really good spring. Hopefully, he’s poised to continue to improve and have a really good year for us.”
Even though McCarron won’t have running back Trent Richardson to utilize out of the backfield this season, he does have a viable threat in junior Eddie Lacy.
When given the opportunity last season, Lacy proved effective. He rushed for 674 yards on 95 carries and scored seven touchdowns. Fellow junior Jalston Fowler also saw playing time, gaining 385 yards on 56 carries with four scores.
Added to the running back mix is freshman T.J. Yeldon, the state of Alabama’s 2011 Mr. Football winner, who demonstrated what he can do in the spring.
In the A-Day game, Yeldon accounted for 179 total yards (88 rushing, 91 receiving), including a 50-yard touchdown reception to earn the game’s Most Valuable Player honor.
“I do think we have a couple of running backs who will probably create some competition, but we’ve always played more than one running back,” Saban said. “We had Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson sharing time as players. Hopefully we’ll be able to find somebody as productive as those two guys have been to share that role again sometime in the future.”
While the running game appears to be solid, the Tide is looking for some players to step up at receiver. Alabama lost its top four pass-catching threats in Marquis Maze, Brad Smelley, Richardson and Darius Hanks. Returning to the receiving corps is junior Kenny Bell, senior tight end Michael Williams, sophomore DeAndrew White and junior Kevin Norwood.
One freshman receiver Saban also noted could play a role was Amari Cooper.
“All of those guys proved when they got opportunities that they could make plays,” Saban said of his returning receivers. “Obviously, those guys made some outstanding plays in the championship game. I think they all had a good spring.”
“I think Amari Cooper is a young guy showed some ability and talent to make some plays, but how are these players going to embrace their responsibility and make this their season? You have to look forward to what you want to do, to be able to take advantage of that. I’ve been pleased with the way these guys have sort of accepted that.”
Anchoring the Tide offensive line is senior Barrett Jones, who is making the move from guard to tackle.
The offense may have a few added wrinkles with the addition of former University of Washington offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. Nussmeier was hired in January to replace Jim McElwain, who left to become head coach at Colorado State.
Last season, Nussmeier’s Huskies offense scored 30 or more points in nine of 13 games.
Williams said learning the Tide’s new offensive schemes “has been a challenge.” He expects to have an expanded role at tight end.
“I’m ready to be an every down tight end for our team,” Williams said. “It requires something I’ve never done, and I’m just ready for the season to start to show what I’ve been working on.”
Williams also said he’s looking forward to see what McCarron can do now that he has a season under his belt.
“His accuracy is better, and his arm strength has always been there,” Williams said. “He’s just worked this off-season on developing that leadership.”
While the Tide is adjusting to a new offensive coordinator, the defense remains under the watch of Kirby Smart. But Smart has his work cut out for him, after Alabama lost its top three tacklers in Dont’a Hightower, Mark Barron and Courtney Upshaw to the NFL.
However, the Tide ‘D’ does return several pieces of last year’s defense that yielded under 200 total yards per game to its opponents.
Senior Nico Johnson and junior C.J. Mosley return to fill two of the linebacker spots. Senior Robert Lester, junior Dee Milliner and sophomore Vinnie Sunseri give the Tide experienced defensive backs. Seniors Damion Square and Jesse Williams will help anchor the defensive line.
“The fact that we do have some defensive linemen coming back that have some experience, I think everything starts up front,” Saban said. “Even though we’ll have some new linebackers, I think those front guys can make the linebackers’ job a little easier if they do the things they’re capable of doing.”
Square said the key to the Tide’s defense is the system in which it runs.
“It’s pretty dynamic,” he said. “The new guys who come in, if those guys learn and master their roles within the system, it’ll make us that much stronger.”
Square said he’s anxious to get the season started, and with good reason. He’s a native of Houston, and the Tide opens its season on Sept. 1 against Michigan in Dallas.
“This is a great way to start my senior year,” he said. “To go play in Jerry (Jones)’s house and play a great team like Michigan, there’s no better way to start the season. I’m looking forward to it.”