Tide Spring Work Begins In A Week

This week is Spring Break at The University of Alabama. Next week is Spring Something Else. The Alabama Crimson Tide will begin spring football practice Monday, March 21.

Alabama is coming off a 10-3 season that was unsatisfactory in a number of ways. While many teams would be happy with a 10-win season, including a convincing New Year's Day bowl victory (49-7 over Michigan State), the Crimson Tide did not achieve to the expected level in 2010.

In part, the disappointment is likely related to the level of achievement in 2009, a 14-0 record and the national championship.

Last year's team was rebuilding the defense. This year, Bama has most of its defense returning, although top lineman Marcell Dareus has departed for the NFL.

There are some key replacements sought for the offense. Bama lost quarterback Greg McElroy, left tackle James Carpenter, tailback Mark Ingram (the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner), and wide receiver Julio Jones.

Dareus, Ingram, and Jones were upcoming seniors who left early for the NFL.

All hands won't be available. A few weeks ago Alabama Coach Nick Saban announced that safety Wesley Neighbors, defensive lineman Kerry Murphy, and cornerback Kendall Kelly would miss spring work because of injuries that kept them out of the winter conditioning program. Additionally, linebacker Glenn Harbin has given up football and is working with the Bama baseball team in hopes of playing baseball in 2012.

Two defensive players who have been injured will participate to some extent in the spring. All-America safety Mark Barron had surgery following the end of regular season play and is expected to be limited. Junior college transfer Jesse Williams didn't participate in the Fourth Qaurter program because of minor knee surgery, but is expected to compete in the spring.

As a rule, junior college players are brought into Alabama's program with the intent of competing for a starting job. Bama will have three new junior college transfers in spring practice. In addition to Williams on the defensive line, the Tide will have Quinton Dial. On the offensive line, Aaron Douglas is expected to work at the left tackle spot vacated by Carpenter.

Spring practice is about much more than replacing starters. Indeed, Saban puts no emphasis on establishing first team players in the spring. All players will be in Tuscaloosa working out through the summer and fall camp will begin in August, working up to the 2011 season-opening game against Kent State on September 3.

Nevertheless, there will be much attention paid to every nuance regarding the competition at quarterback. McElroy was a two-year starter who produced a 24-3 record and set numerous Bama passing records. The competitors are expected to be sophomore A.J. McCarron and redshirt freshman Phillip Sims. McCarron had limited work as McElroy's back-up last year as a redshirt freshman after winning the No. 2 job as a true freshman in 2009. This will be Sims second spring as he entered The University in January 2010.

Spring is primarily part of the process. Saban wants every player to improve, thus making the team better. Ideally, his players will be better than the players on opposing teams.

It is also a time for building depth. Although most attention is on starters, having good back-up players can be critical to success.

Spring also offers the opportunity for experimentation, perhaps along the lines of big tailback Jalston Fowler (6-1, 240) to the H-back position manned last season by tight end Preston Dial.

Bama will practice 15 days, usually on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Practices are closed to the public with the exception of the annual A-Day Game, to be played at Bryant-Denny Stadium at 2 p.m. CDT Saturday, April 16. There is no admission charge for the game, which will be televised by ESPNU.

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