Who Will Surprise For 2012 Bama?

If my wife knew she was getting a pearl necklace for her birthday next week, then it wouldn't be a surprise. She would be very happy, but, again, it would not be a surprise. Actually, if she expects a pearl necklace, she is in for a surprise -- a disappointing surprise.

When we speak of surprises in athletics, we almost always are talking about a pleasant surprise.

And by the nature of it being a surprise, we can't really know in late July who the pleasant surprises of the 2012 Alabama football team will be. You know...if we knew, it wouldn't be a surprise.

But we can speculate on who might be an unexpected pearl for the Crimson Tide this season.

Best guess is probably a new starter, and Bama will have at least five new starters on offense and at least five new starters on defense.

Although there's a new placekicker candidate, he's not likely to beat out Jeremy Shelley for most of the field goal and extra point work, so we'll throw out kickers.

The surprise star could be on defense, where a handful of starters are being replaced. And among those lost are three first round NFL draft choices – middle linebacker Dont'a Hightower, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, and strong safety Mark Barron. Also lost are two outside linebackers, including All-America Courtney Upshaw.

There are three particularly tempting choices among new defenders for Alabama Pleasant Surprise Of 2012.

Trey DePriest saw a little bit of action at middle linebacker last year, but was noted primarily for his play as a special teams cover man in his true freshman season. This year the 6-2, 242-pound sophomore is ticketed to replace Hightower at the key Mike position. But can DePriest, who was the top middle linebacker prospct i,n the nation as a prep senior, really be considered a surprise if he plays well?

There's a similar situation at strong safety where Vinnie Sunseri is penciled in to replace Barron. Sunseri really has a battle on his hands just to win the job with the likes of Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix and incoming freshman Landon Collins in the fray. Sunseri earned plenty of recognition for his play last year, particularly on kickoff coverage, and he was number one coming out of spring practice.

Speaking of Sunseri, the father of Vinnie Sunseri, Coach Sal Sunseri, said before leaving Tuscaloosa to take the job as defensive coordinator at Tennessee, that he looked forward to seeing sophomore Adrian Hubbard (6-6, 248) as the successor to Upshaw.

And it could be someone else – junior Ed Stinson at defensive end, Xzavier Dickson at outside linebacker, or a newcomer at cornerback. Saban signed two junior college greats at corner in Deion Belue and Travell Dixon, plus John Fulton, a junior, seems to be coming of age.

Turning to the offense:

An easy one would be that new center Barrett Jones will be a pleasant surprise, but that's almost cheating since he has been a starter and a star at guard and tackle the past three years and is listed on the 2012 watch lists for every award imaginable, including the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award.

Cyrus Kouandjio is expected to step in at left tackle, but Alabama Coach Nick Saban has already said that he considered the 6-6, 322-pound sophomore to be starter level as a true freshman last year.

No one is sure who the H-back will be, replacing Brad Smelley. In the spring up until the A-Day Game it seemed to be Harrison Jones, brother of Barrett. But in the A-Day Game, Brian Vogler appeared to have the edge. New to the mix will be a man who really could be a surprise as redshirt freshman Brent Calloway moved to H-back late in the spring. He came to Alabama as a tailback, where he was on the scout team last fall, then worked at outside linebacker through most of the spring before a late shift to H-back. He has all the tools, but lacks experience.

Alabama has got to have two new starting wide receivers. It would be a big surprise if Duron Carter is one of them, because the Duron saga has finally ended with Saban's announcement that Carter is no longer a part of the team. Still, there must be replacements for Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks. When Maze went out with a pulled hamstring, Kevin Norwood had a very fine BCS National Championship Game, making key catches in the 21-0 win over LSU. Christion Jones was particularly effective as Maze's replacement on punt and kickoff returns. Kenny Bell seemed right on the verge of being a big-time receiver last year. And Saban said that true freshman Amari Cooper showed up good in the spring after entering in January.

Although Eddie Lacy is coming off turf toe injury, he's expected to move up into Trent Richardson's starting role at tailback. Jalston Fowler also showed some game at tailback last year. Dee Hart, who was being counted on for a variety of roles last year before suffering an ACL injury, is expected to be back at full strength.

There's no question who the surprise of the A-Day Game was.

Tailback is a featured position at Alabama.

This time a year ago, anyone who follows football would have been surprised that T.J. Yeldon could possibly be anything but a bad problem for Alabama. The star tailback from Daphne was headed to Auburn. But Yeldon decided to join the national championship program at Alabama. He was an early high school graduate and went through spring practice. He was the star of the A-Day Game, winner of the Dixie Howell Award as the game's most valuable player.

It seems unlikely that Yeldon will thread his way all the way through the tailback segment of the depth chart to starter, but because he has shown that he can perform at tailback, and demonstrated that he can catch the ball, and looks like a likely kickoff return man, our guess is that the Alabama surprise of 2012 will be T.J. Yeldon.

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