"The worst thing we could do is make some pre-assumptions," Kines continued. "Assume that this guy will start, while this other guy will be a back-up. We'll take it from Day One. Day Two we'll evaluate Day One. At the end of spring we'll turn around and see how far we've gotten."
It's not that Kines and his defensive staff don't have a copy of last year's depth chart. They just prefer to develop their own from scratch. Kines explained, "You can list all your good players, but if you do you might lose that kid in the back. The veteran guys will take care of themselves. We're obviously not going to try to re-invent the wheel. But we are going to evaluate everybody straight up."
A veteran of 35 years in coaching, Kines long ago learned to trust competition. "That's the way every player wants it in the spring," he said. "Because that's how you get better. If there is competition and guys are pushing you, then you'll improve. That gives an athlete a shot to get better every day."
With eight full- or part-time starters back, Kines has plenty of experienced players to work with. Plus, numerous future stars like Demeco Ryans, Mark Anderson, Juwan Garth, Todd Bates, Anthony Bryant, Ahmad Childress and Roman Harper are anxious to prove their worth. Three D-Line starters and two in the secondary are gone from last year's squad, but don't bother asking who will take their place.
"Before Monday, we hadn't even put a helmet on yet," Kines replied, shaking his head. "Everything is still open for debate. You always find somebody in the spring. You always find a young player that you though might not could play, but all of a sudden he grew up. They're all a year older. That's the best thing about college ball."
But even returning starters like Charles Jones and Cornelius Wortham aren't stenciled on the current depth chart in permanent ink. Kines will be keeping an eye out for talent this spring, doing everything he can to put the most gifted players on the field.
"We'll be looking to identify which guys can play," Kines said. "That's what spring is about. Find the best 11. Find the next 11 and get them in a row. Get them in line. We'll find 11 guys that can play. Find the next 11 behind them. And if we're lucky enough, find a couple that can spot in on that third group.
"If you can come out of spring two-deep, then you're pretty decent."
During his career Kines has worked at many of the top Southern programs in college football, including a three-year stint in the NFL. But there's something about spring practice that rejuvenates the spirit. "This is a great time of year to just concentrate on football," Kines explained. "To me it's a lot equivalent to pro camp. The best time of pro football for me was just being in camp, because it was just pure football. In the spring it's back to fundamentals. You're not preoccupied preparing for next week's opponent, trying to get ready to stop 14 pass routes and all that stuff."
Under Kines, the Tide defense will continue to teach out of a standard 4-3 base, concentrating on stopping the run first while being aggressive in pressuring the quarterback. Kines doesn't believe the athletes will have any trouble with the transition. "I don't anticipate any problems with the athletes picking up the scheme. Not at all. The terminology will probably be the biggest difference."
In fact, final decisions have not yet been made regarding the particulars of Bama's 2003 defense. Kines and his staff will be spending a tremendous amount of time and energy this spring, scouting and assessing the particular talents of their athletes.
He explained, "During the off-season program and in the weight room, we've been able to observe them some there. And obviously we've looked at a ton of tape. We've seen them on tape and doing drills. Coach Ben Pollard really held this thing together in the weight room during the interim period. Before Monday we had only watched a couple of sessions of agility work, but at least you could see them move."
If judging athletic ability was obvious, then coaches could simply sign a roster full of athletes from assorted body-building contests and be done with it. In fact, even scouting players on film can be tricky.
"We've just been able to see body size, height, weight and watch them on film," Kines said. "But scouting them on film can be risky without knowing exactly what the athlete was told to do on a given play. You might think he did something wrong, when actually he did exactly what he was coached to do."
Kines explained that the squad would practice for two days in shorts and helmets, before donning full pads on Day 3. "It'll be Friday before you actually play ball," he related. "But we can get our alignments taught, so Friday we can hit the ground running."
"When spring practice used to be 20 days, you had time," Kines continued. "If you missed something one day, you could always catch it up the next day. Plus, back then if you didn't like something, then you just stayed with it under the moon (working late into the night). But with 15 days and limited hours, you've got to go.
"You've got to be organized and hit that thing running and not miss a beat."