By Tyler Waldrep
Special to

The most important moment of the University of Alabama’s first football spring practice doesn’t take place under the gaze of coach Nick Saban. The drill remains the same from year to year.

“I think the most important thing about the first day of practice is that everybody can come off the field and self-assess where they are, what they did well, things they need to improve on,” Saban said on Tuesday at the start of spring drills.

Some of those personal goals will be set by 16 early enrollees – a program-high for the Saban era.

Others will be determined by returning players. The ones who still swallow a bitter taste when they remember the orange confetti and shake their heads at the thought of Hunter Renfrow’s game-winning two-yard touchdown reception in the 35-31 loss to Clemson in the national championship in Tampa in January.

“One game doesn’t define who you are,” Saban said. “…I think the challenge was and the message to everybody in this building that works in football that this is not a time to talk about ‘we,’ this is a time to talk about ‘what I’ – what I can do better to helps us be a better team.”

That’s the gauntlet Saban has thrown down for everyone on his staff: including graduate assistants, interns, assistant coaches and, yes, even himself. Regardless of the result of Alabama’s last game, it’s hard to imagine the head coach that’s won four of the last eight national titles preaching anything else at the beginning of spring practice.

“I think everybody’s got to decide the player that they want to be and go out there and work hard to do it,” he said. “And most of the time it’s not the other team that’s a problem, you defeat yourself from within.”

That’s what Saban believes happened in the national championship game. Dropped passes, poorly-thrown balls, bad blocks and missed defensive assignments all contributed to the outcome.

Saban said the responsibility for that lack of execution rests with the coaching staff for failing to prepare the players well enough to win.

The latest edition of the Crimson Tide has got a long road ahead of it if it’s going to top last season’s 14-1 finish that fell seconds short of a perfect 15-0. The difference could be determined by how well the players, new and old alike, learn to put emotions, frustrations and exhaustion to the side and give everything to the current play.

“To be a great competitor, you have to overcome (the psychological barriers) so you can persevere, improve and play the next play and learn from your mistakes,” Saban said.