The reluctance to discuss how the current group of Alabama players stack up individually, or even as a collective group comparatively to other groups of athletes Saban and his staff have respectively coached in the past, is not just a quirk. It's a philosophy in itself.
As Alabama Defensive Coordinator Kevin Steele said Thursday, "Obviously we have a philosophy here, and that philosophy is deeply ingrained in the program. That philosophy, from day one, it's ‘Guys, don't get into evaluating too much now. Let's go through the process of teaching and as we get through a cycle of off-season conditioning, strength and conditioning program, then some football, Xs and O learning in the classroom which we haven't even gotten to yet, then let's sit down and assess it."
The reason for that, Steele implied, is so as not to create any false impressions in their own minds or in the minds of outsiders. "So just teach, and that will take care of itself."
Saban did cop to an obvious and glaring deficiency with the current squad on Thursday, a lack of numbers and a lack of experience in the defensive front seven. And he said that if you have a weak front seven it makes it is more likely their will have to be eight men in the box to stop the run, "which leaves you susceptible to having the ball thrown on you."
Saban noted that discipline was an area where the team was lacking in describing a drill where a group must line up properly, not jump offsides, and sprint 10 yards through the finish line full speed 10 consecutive times without one screw-up before the drill is over.
"How many of those do you think we'd have to put our team on the line to do to get 10 of them (in a row) run right? I'm not going to tell you how many we had to do," he said. "That seems to be a simpler task, to me, than ever executing a play on offense, or defense, or a blitz or whatever. So when I say we've made improvement, we have, but are we where we need to be? I'm not sure."
Otherwise, we are left to guess on whether Saban and staff thinks the team they have inherited are even physically talented enough to match up with the middleweights in the Southeastern Conference, or go toe-to-toe with the big boys, or to hang around with the dregs of the league.
"You've got to be careful of getting into comparative analysis, simply because no two teams are alike," Steele said. "The team that I coached (at Florida State) if I had stayed, is different from the team from last year. Assess it in its proper cycle."
But hints were dropped to keen observers at BamaMag.com. On the offense, for example, Saban said there would be a whole gamut of all different types of formations and plays known to football.
As an example of the versatility he is seeking he referred to the 2001 Southeastern Conference Championship game when Rohan Davey (a pocket passer) was being swarmed by Tennessee's front seven because LSU couldn't protect the passer. But Davey got hurt and Matt Mauck came into the game and the offense changed to empty backfields and zone reads (where Mauck could go from the shotgun and decide whether to hand the ball off to his running back or keep it himself) and other plays where Mauck could use his legs effectively. LSU came back from a 10-point deficit to win the game.
"We had enough flexibility in our system to feature two different types of quarterbacks and style," Saban said.
Well, if Alabama still has a lot of holes in its offensive line, and if it can't protect the quarterback significantly better than it did last year it's a good bet that John Parker Wilson will be running plays that make him look more like Matt Mauck than Rohan Davey.
As for the big picture for Alabama as the squad enters the spring? Things are subject to change based on gains or losses in the spring, and based on perceptive shifts in the squad based on spring practice and scrimmages, but for now a proper over/under on the number of regular seasons wins Alabama will get next season in Nick Saban's first year is eight and a half.