Spring Football Practice Begins

Alabama isn't going to replace Barrett Jones and Eddie Lacy and Dee Milliner Saturday. The Crimson Tide football team is going to start spring football practice Saturday, and that will be the beginning of Bama working to improve each player and a step towards developing a team.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban will assemble his team for 2013 spring practice Saturday afternoon. Bama will also work Monday, Wednesday, and Friday next week before The University's spring break. The team will return for the final three weeks of practice on April 1 and will have the 15th practice – the annual A-Day Game -- on April 20 at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

At that point, Saban and his staff will probably have some ideas about the team that will be attempting to win a third consecutive national championship and fourth in five years, but there is still off-season work through the summer and fall camp in August before Bama opens the season Aug. 31 against Virginia Tech in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

From the outside, there is a glass half full camp that sees a number of stars returning to the Crimson Tide team that went 13-1 last year, winning the Southeastern Conference and BCS National championships.

It starts at quarterback and A.J. McCarron is one of the best in storied Alabama history. In his first two years as a starter he has two national championships and a 25-2 record. He was also the nation's most efficient passer last year. Moreover, the Tide has a handful of candidates who will be battling behind him.

Alabama also returns great targets for McCarron. The wide receiver corps returns virtually everyone, led by upcoming sophomore Amari Cooper. Three men who were injured last year -- Kenny Bell, DeAndrew White, and Chris Black should be back. They join veterans Kevin Norwood, Christion Jones, and Cyrus Jones.

The Tide returns most of its linebackers, headed by C.J. Mosley. Trey DePriest, Adrian Hubbard, and Xzavier Dickson are proven players and there are good names behind them.

Bama returns punter Cody Mandell and long placekicker/kickoff man Cade Foster.

The Chicken Little crowd has its points, too.

Center Barrett Jones, tackle D.J. Fluker, and guard Chance Warmack have been key in a dominating offensive line the last three years. There will be new men in their spots. But at least Bama has a man returning at the important left tackle position in Cyrus Kouandjio and a three-year starter at right guard in Anthony Steen. Most think center will be in good shape with third-year sophomore Ryan Kelly, and redshirt freshman left guard Alphonse Taylor gets a lot of talk.

Bama has to find a new H-Back, but Jalston Fowler seemed destined to be a star at that spot before being injured early last year.

Tight end will probably have a different look than it has the past three years when hard-blocking Michael Williams was doing the work. This could be a great spring battle with the likes of Brian Voglezr, Malcolm Faciane, Kurt Freitag, Harrison Jones, and newcomer O.J. Howard.

The defensive line has serious losses in nose tackle Jesse Williams and ends Damion Square and Quinton Dial, but Bama has good numbers to work with. Jeoffrey Pagan got more and more work last year in clutch situations and Ed Stinson was quietly a very effective performer. Big men like LaMichael Fanning, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Korren Kirven have had good reports from practice.

The secondary lost three-year starting safety Robert Lester and All-America cornerback Dee Milliner and has some depth issues.

Deion Belue was a starter last year after playing in junior college, and the cornerback can be expected to follow form and be much improved in his second year under the eye of Saban. Although he wasn't considered a starting cornerback, Geno Smith showed great talent last year as a starting nickel back, and he'll likely move to corner. That's the same path Milliner took last year.

The two safety spots are very important in the Alabama defense, and the Tide has a number of experienced safeties, including HaHa Clinton-Dix, who started much of last year; Vinnie Sunseri, a starter in dime situations; Landon Collins; and Jabriel Washington.

The pessimists will note the loss of tailback Eddie Lacy, but their laments are overwhelmed by the optimists who see the return of 1,000-yard rusher T.J. Yeldon, Kenyan Drake, Dee Hart back from injury, and incoming freshman star Derrick Henry.

Saban, of course, doesn't worry about a depth chart. His concern in the spring will be to make every player better and find the best place for every player, thus making Alabama a better team.

There may be some experimentation. There has been speculation that a wide receiver or two could get a look at cornerback, for instance.

The important thing is that Alabama will not be the same team at the end of spring practice that it is going in.

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