Spring Football Begins Saturday

If this is mid-March, college sports fans know what that means. Right. Spring football practice. Although Crimson Tide players have been in off-season workouts, real football begins this week. Or, at least, football in shorts and helmets as mandated by college football rules.

Alabama will have the first of its 15 spring football practice days on Saturday. The Crimson Tide will have a break after the first week – The University's spring break – and finally finish up on April 19 with the A-Day Game at Bryant-Denny Stadium. All practices except the spring game are closed to the public.

Also this week, Alabama will host its Pro Day, scouts from all National Football League teams expected in Tuscaloosa to work out players competing for this year's NFL Draft. The activity is closed to the public.

Last week, Alabama Coach Nick Saban said, "Things have been going really well in the off-season for us. I think the players have really worked hard. I see a lot of players sort of working on the sort of kind of connection that you need on a team to have a chance to develop the kind of team chemistry that you'd like to have. Obviously we haven't coached the players in anything, so there's no news on who's playing what position and who the quarterback is. That's all speculation.

"But we've had a really good off-season so far. And hopefully it'll carry right into the spring.

"There obviously are a lot of questions that we have on the team that we'd like to answer during the spring."

Those questions may start with quarterback, but Saban said earlier that it's not likely that question will be answered. A.J. McCarron has moved on and there are generally inexperienced players in spring camp who will contend, but almost everyone – including Saban – seems to think the competition at quarterback will go into fall camp. And, perhaps, beyond. For one thing, transfer Jacob Coker will enter Alabama in the summer.

Among things Saban will be looking for this spring are:

"Any place where you have an opening on your team, however it was created – by graduation or a player leaving early for the draft or whatever – you're always anxious to see how the players that are competing for those positions improve.

"I think number two is the freshmen who came in last fall make a huge improvement between their first fall, their first spring, and the next fall. You're always kind of anxious to see how those guys progress and develop."

There are positions other than quarterback where replacements from the 11-2 team of 2013 must be replaced.

"But we have quite a few players who have at least some experience at those positions," Saban said. He pointed out that Bama lost two safeties (HaHa Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri both passing up their final seasons to try out for the NFL), "but we've got Jarrick Williams, Landon Collins, Nick Perry coming back from shoulder surgery, and Geno Smith, who spent a year at safety and is probably going to progress. So it's not like we don't have anybody at the position." Collins started much of the year after Sunseri suffered a knee injury.

A couple of other players, both running backs, had been expected to return, but Dee Hart decided to pass up his fifth year in hopes of transferring to another school (rumored to be CFU) and Alvin Kamara was suspended from the team in December and elected to leave Alabama.

That is not a position of concern with the likes of T.J. Yeldon, Kenyan Drake, and Derrick Henry in competition at tailback.

Outside linebacker Xzavier Dickson was also suspended from the team for the Sugar Bowl, but Saban said he is back with the team.

He said he was not aware of any other players who might not be with the team this spring.

There are also eight newcomers to the team, scholarship signees for 2014 who entered The University in January, went through the off-season program, and will participate in spring practice.

One of them is not strictly new. Defensive end D.J. Pettway had been a member of the 2012 Crimson Tide national championship team, but was dismissed from the squad after that season. He spent last year at East Mississippi Community College and returned with this signing class.

Pettway brought a junior college teammate with him, too, in defensive tackle Jarran Reed.

There are also six freshmen in the group – cornerback Tony Brown (who has been competing with the Alabama track and field team as a hurdler), quarterback David Cornwell, middle linebacker Shaun Hamilton, safety Laurence Jones, offensive tackle Cam Robinson, and wide receiver Cam Sims.

Saban said the newcomers were impressive in off-season work. "I think it's a huge advantage for them to be here," he said. "They all look like they might be guys who can compete to help the team."

In addition to quarterback and safety, Bama must find replacements for wide receivers Kevin Norwood and Kenny Bell, right guard Anthony Steen, left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, defensive ends Ed Stinson and Jeoffrey Pagan, linebackers C.J. Mosley and Adrian Hubbard, cornerback Deion Belue, punter Cody Mandell, and placekicker Cade Foster.

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