TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Alabama fans can find plenty of reason for optimism leading into this season. There's the talented defense and veteran offensive line and that No. 2 preseason ranking.
Another potential indicator: Coach Nick Saban seems to be in an almost jolly mood. Saban was relaxed and downright affable in Monday's longer-than-usual, 26-minute news conference, cracking smiles and jokes.
He's maybe even had to search a little harder during practice for reasons to yell.
"He's always going to be coach Saban," linebacker Dont'a Hightower said. "He's always going to yell, that's just the way he coaches. I feel like we don't really have as many mental mistakes, so maybe sometimes he yells because he feels like he has to and that's the way he coaches.
"As far as little mistakes and things like that, we don't have half as many as we did last year. That's a real big thing."
It has certainly put Saban in a better mood leading up to the Crimson Tide's opener Saturday against Kent State. It's the kind of maturity expected from a team with 10 starters back on defense.
Even questions on the depth chart and high expectations — subjects that have been known to rile him up in the past — were greeted with equanimity.
Saban's day got even better when junior college transfer Duron Carter had a transcript issue cleared up. The coveted wide receiver made his practice debut Monday, though Saban indicated earlier he probably wouldn't have a big role in the opener with such a short timetable.
The depth chart did have some interesting twists.
— Quarterbacks AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims are listed as co-starters, meaning that tight battle won't likely be decided before seeing both in action in at least one game.
Saban said the coaches will have a plan for both passers — and not deviate from it if one of them makes a mistake.
"I don't want any player over there looking over their shoulder like, ‘If I make one bad play, they're going to pull me out of the game,'" Saban said. "That's not going to happen."
— All-Southeastern Conference guard Barrett Jones is listed with freshman Cyrus Kouandjio as co-No. 1 at left tackle, where Jones started working late in the spring.
— Redshirt freshman DeAndrew White is a starter at wide receiver, where senior Darius Hanks must sit out the first two games because of NCAA participation rules.
— Junior college transfer Jesse Williams, a 6-foot-4, 319-pounder, won a starting job at defensive end to replace No. 3 NFL draft pick Marcell Dareus.
"We have lots of competition in the defensive line," Saban said.
The coach and players say they hope lessons were learned from last season when they didn't live up to the preseason predictions to repeat as national champions.
Saban said he likes the team's attitude and approach to the season.
"All those things are going to get determined by what we do," he said. "The preseason stuff is all determined by what we've done in the past, which has nothing to do with what we do in the future. I'm hopeful that the players have learned that by past experience.
"Just the way people think. I don't care what game it is or what league you're playing in, you can't compete that way."
Noseguard Josh Chapman said he took it as a good sign that players were already watching film when he got to the football complex Monday.
"It's early in the week," Chapman said. "You don't normally see a lot of guys in the film room until later on in the week, and they're already in there."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.