Alabama has racked up a 23-4 record the past two football seasons and is the reigning Southeastern Conference champion, yet many Crimson Tide players have spent the past several months being asked, "What's wrong with the program?"
Such is life at a college monstrosity that gobbled up national championships in 2009, '11 and '12.
Today, the Crimson Tide will begin their ninth August camp under coach Nick Saban. Veteran players are scheduled to work out this morning, with the newcomers set for an evening practice.
Here are five preseason questions concerning Alabama, which is ranked No. 3 in USA Today's preseason coaches poll.
1. Is Jake Coker the guy?
Coker was thought to be Alabama's top option at quarterback this time last year after transferring from Florida State, but Blake Sims took the first snaps in the opener against West Virginia at the Chick-fil-A Classic and never looked back. Coker did well in mop-up duty last season, completing 38 of 59 passes for 403 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions, but Saban isn't tipping his hand on how the selection process will transpire for a second straight summer.
David Cornwell is believed to be Coker's chief challenger, but Blake Barnett, Cooper Bateman and Alec Morris are also in the competition.
"We do not have an experienced player at that position," Saban said. "We did not have one last year, but Blake Sims did a fantastic job. We need somebody to take the bull by the horns this year and be that kind of player for us, and I think we have several guys who are capable of it."
2. Can the receivers reload?
Sims threw for 3,487 yards and 28 touchdowns last season and led the SEC in efficiency. He was not lacking for a supporting cast, with Amari Cooper setting a new league standard with 124 catches for a school-record 1,727 yards.
Christion Jones and DeAndrew White combined on 59 catches for 768 yards, but Alabama's second- and third-leading receivers from a year ago are gone as well.
The top returning receivers are Chris Black (15 catches for 188 yards) and ArDarius Stewart (12 for 149). Touted freshmen Daylon Charlet and Calvin Ridley could help, as could Oregon State graduate transfer Richard Mullaney, who missed half of last season with an elbow injury after amassing 52 catches for 788 yards in 2013.
"We have some talented guys at the receiver position," Saban said. "They obviously don't have the experience some of our players have had in the past, so it will be an interesting challenge to get those guys to develop the confidence and the attention to detail that's necessary to develop the chemistry in the passing game."
3. Can Jones replace Jones?
The loss of Christion Jones not only affects Alabama's receivers but the return game as well. Jones was the SEC special teams player of the year in 2013 and set a school record last season with 851 yards on kickoff returns.
Senior cornerback Cyrus Jones is the likely successor for both kickoff and punt returns. He had four of each last season, including a 70-yard punt return against Florida Atlantic.
4. Will the secondary improve?
Injuries the past couple of seasons have resulted in Alabama returning seven defensive backs with starting experience, but the two primary safeties from last season — Landon Collins and Nick Perry — must be replaced.
Tony Brown, Eddie Jackson, Cyrus Jones and Bradley Sylve each had starts at cornerback last season, with Jackson working at corner and safety this spring. Geno Smith, Maurice Smith and Jabriel Washington have each started at safety, and then there are youngsters such as Marlon Humphrey, Hootie Jones and early enrollee Ronnie Harrison looking to make their marks.
"I think it's important that the secondary does not give up the kind of explosive plays we gave up at the end of last season," Saban said.
5. Can this team have fun?
It wasn't until the sixth game last season, a 14-13 escape at Arkansas, when Saban noticed Alabama players celebrating with one another and not feeling burdened by the success of their predecessors. An 84-11 record the past seven seasons accompanied by three national championships have set the annual expectations bar at an unhealthy level, leaving players realizing that a single loss can spoil a season for some of their supporters.
"We're not allowed to have a bad season," senior linebacker Reggie Ragland said. "The fans will let you know when you're playing badly, so we have to have the right mindset at all times. The players who came before us instilled something that we have to keep finishing."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.