Nick Saban didn't specifically say so Wednesday, but there might not be a four-word phrase in the English language - not even "hey, another press conference!" - that the University of Alabama coach likes any less than "a sense of entitlement."
Without being specific about it, Saban has hinted that the "sense of entitlement" that derived from being 2009 national champions might have been one of the problems in 2010. It certainly didn't affect every player - Julio Jones, who probably had as much reason to feel "entitled" as any Alabama player ever - never exhibited anything less than full effort on the field. And it didn't manifest itself in every game. But on all those occasions when Saban talked about a team that "didn't know how to win," you could detect that the "sense of entitlement" was lurking in the shadows.
So when Saban, giving what was an unofficial mid-spring review after UA reached the midpoint (actually it was the two-thirds point with 10 practices of the allotted 15 now in the books), mentioned the words "sense of entitlement," it was time to take notice. And when he said "some guys got demoted" because they to ok that attitude at last Saturday's scrimmage, you could tell just how serious the head coach was.
Saban didn't name names. He did offer a few hints in his other comments. When he said DeQuan Menzie, who was injured for much of last season, was "probably our best cornerback based on that scrimmage," it was hard not to hear a message to the cornerbacks who started last season.
It's unfair, though, to think it was limited to any one player, just because Saban didn't give a position-by-position review. Names weren't changed to protect the innocent. Saban just didn't mention many players by name.
He made the point again, in response to a question about quarterbacks.
"Just because someone played last year, nobody should assume that gives them advantage," Saban said.
That could be construed as a comment about A.J. McCarron, who had some game experience as Greg McElroy's backup last season. But it seemed to be a dictum for every veteran player on the team, when taken in context.
Saban's message was clear. He doesn't intend to tolerate less than 100 percent effort, and he may well have enough young talent on hand to shuffle things as much as he feels is necessary.
"They all know what days we practice," Saban said. "We go out on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. So they should look forward to those days. They should go out there with the mental energy to improve. We have made some progress in that area, but we still have some guys who struggle to be consistent."
The 2011 Alabama team should have more experience than the 2010 team did, and that should translate into more consistency. But if players are being "demoted" because of a "sense of entitlement," that certainly implies that some experienced players are moving down in the coach's estimation, and some younger, or at least less experienced, players are moving up. There can be some problems with that, too. Saban said that last Saturday's scrimmage included some young players with "a high anxiety level," but he also pointed out that "low anxiety with low achievement" wasn't a winning formula, either.
Then, speaking again to the point, Saban said that "as those (younger) guys get more playing experience and see the things they need to improve on, especially for certain players, there will be a big jump for them."
A "big jump" might simply mean a better second scrimmage. But it isn't too far-fetched to guess that the big jump might, in some cases, mean jumping over someone else in the fight for a starting position.