Tide Football Gets Back To Practice

It's not like nothing has been going on the past couple of weeks. Recruiting has been Job 1. There has been whirlwind travel for quarterback AJ McCarron, particularly, and to lesser extent for C.J. Mosley. Players went through finals and a dozen and a half went through graduation exercises Saturday, and those players also did some running and weight-lifting.

And Alabama Coach Nick Saban made some news when it was announced that he would sign a new contract to continue as head football coach of the Crimson Tide, and end his coaching career at some distant time in Tuscaloosa. He added that he never considered going to Texas, where Mack Brown is winding up his long career as head coach of the Longhorns.

A new phase is expected to begin this week. Alabama will go back to practice in preparation for the Sugar Bowl. The Crimson Tide will meet the Oklahoma Sooners on January 2 at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans. Although Bama can't win this year's national championship, which would have made it three in a row and four in five years, the Tide is likely to finish second with a win over the Sooners.

Almost remarkable as Alabama's 15 national championships is Bama finishing in the nation's top ten 36 times since the start of Associated Press polling in 1937.

By the time a team has played 12 games and rung up 11 victories, the squad should be set. That doesn't mean there isn't work to be done.

Saban has pointed out over the years that he doesn't spend all the available practice time on an upcoming opponent, that to spend 15 or so days preparing for one team would be counter-productive, players getting bored. Instead, the Tide is likely to begin practice in the next day or two, work until a day or so before taking a Christmas break, and then re-assembling in New Orleans a day or so after Christmas to begin actual game preparation.

The practice time over the next 10 days will be akin to fall camp, work on fundamentals and technique, and on correcting mistakes. It is not an extra spring practice as such, but it is a time with no classes that allows extra time for those who have not been playing to get more attention.

Does that mean the Tide will shake out a quarterback to replace A.J. McCarron next year? Probably not. For now, Blake Sims is the back-up, but Saban has said that the competition for the 2014 season will begin after the 2013 season, which means, essentially, during spring practice.

In addition to Sims, those on the roster include upcoming third-year sophomore Alec Morris and upcoming redshirt freshmen Cooper Bateman, Luke Del Rio, and Parker McLeod. And this spring incoming freshman David Cornwell will join the competition. (Cornwell will enter for the spring semester. He is, interestingly, from Norman, Okla., home of the Sooners.)

This practice time will also mean the continuing process of trying to shore up the secondary, or at least cornerback. Bama needs to get it done for Oklahoma, but also for the future. The most consistent cornerback has been Deion Belue, who finishes his career in the Sugar Bowl. Presumably, the future is in the hands of Cyrus Jones, Bradley Sylve, Eddie Jackson, and Maurice Smith, or perhaps a redshirt freshman like Anthony Averett.

The focus will be on Oklahoma through January 2, but it is impossible not to recognize that next year the Tide will be without the likes of McCarron, Anthony Steen, Kevin Norwood, and, probably, Cyrus Kouandjio on offense; Mosley, Belue, Ed Stinson, and, probably, HaHa Clinton-Dix on defense; and place-kicker Cade Foster and punter Cody Mandell.

Fortunately, Saban and his staff has stacked good recruiting classes on top of one another and Bama is in the midst of a recruiting effort that could rank among the best in college football ever.

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