Spring Sports At Bama Include Football

Baseball has barely begun. Basketball is on the brink of its best moments, tournament play. But in less than three weeks the stage will be shared with football. Alabama begins spring football practice on March 21.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban will put his group of returning players, plus a handful of newcomers, on the field for the first of 15 spring practices on Monday, March 21. The work will conclude with the A-Day Game at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday, April 16.

Players are in the Fourth Quarter Program of strength and conditioning in preparation for spring training. Practices will ordinarily be on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays with all but the spring game closed.

All details of the spring game have not yet been revealed because of the possibility of television, but it has been reported that a pre-game highlight will be the unveiling of the statue of Saban on the plaza outside the North end zone. Statues of coaches of previous national championship Crimson Tide teams – Wallace Wade, Frank Thomas, Paul Bryant, and Gene Stallings – are already on the plaza. Saban's 2009 Bama won the national title, but it has been more than a year in getting his statue finished.

One of the other traditions of A-Day is the captains' ceremony at Denny Chimes on the Quad. Last year's captains – Greg McElroy, Dont'a Hightower, and Mark Barron – will add their hand- and foot-prints to those of previous captains in the concrete walkway around the chimes.

If Saban follows form (a good bet), the A-Day Game will put the first offense and second defense against the first defense and second offense.

The highlight of curiosity for Alabama 2011 is the quarterback position. Greg McElroy produced a record of 24-3 in his two years as starter. Now the job will be passed to his successor. Top candidates are upcoming sophomore A.J. McCarron, who was McElroy's back-up the past two years, and redshirt freshman Phillip Sims, who will be going through his second spring practice. Phillip Ely is an incoming freshman quarterback who joined the Tide in January.

The recent NFL combine in Indianapolis reminds of some other key positions that must be filled.

Former Heisman Trophy winning tailback Mark Ingram, all-star wide receiver Julio Jones, left tackle James Carpenter, and defensive end Marcell Dareus are key losses from the 2010 Bama squad that went 10-3, including a 49-7 romp over Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl.

The positives, though, outweigh the negatives, which is why Alabama is being picked to once again be one of the nation's top college football teams this season. On offense, the Tide returns four of five offensive line starters, including all-star candidates Barrett Jones at right guard and William Vlachos at center. Also back on the front line is tight end Michael Williams.

Julio is a big loss in the receiver corps, in no small part because his blocking has been a key element in Bama's running back. The Tide has capable wide receivers, though perhaps not of the Julio Jones type. Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks are returning starters and young players like Keiwone Malone, DeAndrew White, and Blake Sims have gotten good reviews from Bama players.

Trent Richardson has been much used in conjunction with Ingram the past two years. Eddie Lacy's performance in the bowl game may have elevated him into the leading candidate to be in the tailback rotation, but this is an area where competition should be good.

Alabama lost one true defensive starter in end Marcell Dareus. Chavis Williams had some starts at linebacker when Bama was in its 3-4 defense, but in truth the 3-4 is a rare alignment for Alabama. More often an extra defensive back, usually Dequan Menzie, was in the lineup. End Damion Square and nose tackle Josh Chapman are back as front line starters, but depth on the defensive front promises spirited competition. Australian Jesse Williams, a mid-term entrant from junior college, is highly anticipated in the defensive line battle.

There is also good competition at linebacker with the likes of returning starters Nico Johnson and Dont'a Hightower. And many consider Tide jack linebacker Courtney Upshaw, who was MVP of the Capital One Bowl, to be Bama's top defensive player.

Although Mark Barron is expected to be limited in the spring, Bama has all-star candidates at both safety positions. Barron was the SEC's leader in interceptions in the 2009 national championship season, and Robert Lester, playing alongside Barron last year, led the conference in interceptions in 2010. Bama also has excellent candidates for cornerback positions, led by returning starters Dre Kirkpatrick and Dee Milliner.

Among those on special teams returning are Jeremy Shelley and Cade Foster as placekickers, Cody Mandell and Jay Williams as punters, and Carson Tinker as snapper.

Alabama has three new assistant coaches in place for spring practice. Jeff Stoutland is coaching the offensive line, Chris Rumpf the defensive line, and Mike Groh wide receivers.

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