TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) -Surrounded by reporters wielding tape recorders and notebooks, Rashad Johnson summed up the feelings of both Alabama's fans and coach Nick Saban.
``It's finally here,'' the Crimson Tide safety said Monday.
Yes, game week has at long last arrived for the Saban era, nearly eight months after his hiring kicked off an offseason frenzy of attention the likes of which this program used to reserve for national titles, not coaching hires. The $4 million-a-year coach can at last field questions about something besides his supersized contract and the equally gargantuan amount hype surrounding his hiring.
Right? Well, almost. The Tide's opening opponent Saturday is Western Carolina, after all. Maybe next week, then.
It can't be soon enough for Saban, who was on the cover of last week's Sports Illustrated to cap an offseason of intense attention and scrutiny.
``I've been anxious to end all the hoopla for a long time,'' Saban said. ``I think the focus should be on the team, not on me.''
He didn't begin the week quietly.
Saban announced the one-game suspension of two starters, wide receiver Keith Brown and inside linebacker Prince Hall. Then, he even released the one piece of hard evidence proving this was indeed game week: A depth chart, previously a closely kept secret.
While it didn't offer any particularly startling revelations, it did officially confirm that Terry Grant is the Tide's tailback. Jimmy Johns, who had worked at fullback, was listed on the depth chart behind Grant instead.
And Leigh Tiffin is the No. 1 kicker while Jamie Christensen, last year's starter, is listed as questionable with a strained quadricep muscle. Right tackle Mike Johnson beat out Chris Capps, last year's starter. Keith Saunders, a starting defensive end last season, is the starter at the jack linebacker position.
``This is where we are today,'' Saban said. ``But there's still competition on our team at several positions, and we actually promote that. We want players to be competitive. We want players to try to increase their role and their playing time.
``They're still going to have opportunities to do that.''
Like the depth chart, Saban is downplaying the significance of his first game at Alabama. He has been there and done that - at Toledo, Michigan State, LSU and the NFL's Miami Dolphins.
Those teams didn't bring 92,000 fans into the stadium for a spring game, of course. Still, Saban insists this is nothing new for him.
He has even debuted against the same team. Saban's first LSU team beat Western Carolina 58-0 in 2000.
``How many years have we been doing this?'' he said. ``How many games have we been in? Every game is different. Every game is the most important game because it's the game you're playing this week. That's how we look at it. That's how we've always looked at it.''
It will provide the players an idea of what the ultra-intense coach and his staff are like on game day and how they prepare for a game.
But Saban said the main focus of Game 1 is ``establishing an identity as a team.''
He leaves little doubt what that means to him - toughness, intensity and focus. That's the impression Saban is hoping his players will leave on the fans.
``When you open up the program and you look at No. 25 or No. 39 or No. 82 or whatever the guy's number is, what are you going to think about him?'' Saban said. ``How he plays, how he competes. You're not going to really see his face. You're not going to get to meet him personally. You're going to develop a character judgment by how that guy plays.
``The accumulation of all those individuals and how they compete and play is how people are going to characterize our team as a competitive unit.''
Tide Talk: Saban said starting NG Brian Motley and first-team FB Baron Huber are probable for the game. Motley is recovering from hand surgery while Huber had a bruised thigh.

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