Alabama begins spring football practice Tuesday and it’s no secret that the Crimson Tide has to find replacements for some very good football players. But slow down, podnah! It all isn’t going to get done by Tuesday afternoon.
In fact, it probably won’t be finished when Alabama completes its 15 days of work with the A-Day Game at Bryant-Denny Stadium on April 22.
That’s not the way Coach Nick Saban’s process works. He wants every player to be better on every play, in every practice, and at the end of spring practice to be a better player. It’s a process that has worked pretty well in Saban’s previous 10 springs at Bama.
Perhaps on Tuesday we’ll find out which players might be limited or even not participating in the spring because of injuries. Middle linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton, who suffered a knee injury in last year’s Southeastern Conference Championship Game, and tailback Bo Scarbrough, whose leg was broken in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, are among those who have been rehabilitating.
True freshman tailback Najee Harris had some clean up work on his knee after arriving at The University for the spring semester. He was the nation’s number one prospect by Scout.com and we’ll see how much he’s ready to do.
In fact, we may find out something about some of the 16 new signees (including Harris) who made it to Alabama in time to take part in spring practice.
There may be some who have elected to leave the program. Our information is that wide receiver Robert Foster had planned to leave, but has since decided to return to Alabama for his final season, but that wide receiver Raheen Falkins has departed. But college players are of an age to change their minds, and we may have to wait for The University to issue a spring roster for a determination.
One thing that Saban won’t issue in the spring is a depth chart. Spring practice, off-season work, and fall camp will determine the depth chart for the season-opening game on Sept. 2 against Florida State in Atlanta. And then it may change prior to the next game against Fresno State, and on and on.
Nevertheless, we’ll get some idea of how that process is going when the team is divided for the A-Day Game. Unless Saban changes his procedure (not likely), the spring game will pit the first offense against the first defense, second offense against the second defense. The Crimson-White game is also the only day Alabama practice will be open to the public.
Alabama returns six starters on offense, five on defense, and one specialist from the 2016 team that went 14-1, won the Southeastern Conference championships, the Peach Bowl/College Football Playoff Semifinal Game, and came within a play of winning its second consecutive national title.
The losses are considerable, including defensive end Jonathan Allen, who won the Lombardi, Bednarik, Nagurski, and Hendricks awards; inside linebacker Reuben Foster, who won the Butkus; offensive left tackle Cam Robinson, winner of the Outland Trophy; along with such stars as tight end O.J. Howard, wide receiver ArDarius Stewart, defensive end Dalvin Tomliknson, outside linebackers Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson, and cornerback Marlon Humphrey.
But the cupboard is hardly empty.
In fact, Alabama returns the Southeastern Conference Offensive Player of the Year and Freshman All-America in sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts. He finished with 3,734 yards of total offense (2,780 yards passing, 954 rushing), which is second best in Crimson Tide football history. He accounted for a Bama record 36 touchdowns (23 passing, 13 rushing).
So, naturally, the big question among many fans, radio talk show hosts and callers, and Internet sites is whether Hurts can hold onto his job.
That’s primarily because Alabama’s No. 1 signing class includes two quarterbacks who are enrolled for the spring, and one of those – Tua Tagovailoa – was considered by many to be the top quarterback prospect in the nation.
Alabama’s list of scholarshipped quarterbacks includes one sophomore (Hurts) and two true freshmen (Tagovailoa and Mac Jones).
There will be more thoughtful interest in those who make strides towards replacing some of those departed stars, particularly in the offensive line where a new left tackle and new right guard must be found; tight end, a couple of wide receivers, the defensive line, where only nose tackle DaRon Payne returns, three of four starting linebackers, and a cornerback. Placekicker Adam Griffith is gone, but his replacement likely will not be known until the entire 2017 squad assembles for fall camp in August.
Other top players returning include tailbacks Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris, wide receiver Calvin Ridley, left guard Ross Pierschbacher, right tackle Jonah Williams, center Bradley Bozeman, nose tackle DaRon Payne, inside linebacker Rashaan Evans, cornerback Anthony Averett, safeties Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison, and punter JK Scott.
Saban will also be breaking in some new assistant coaches, including Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach Brian Daboll, Wide Receivers Coach Mike Locksley, and Tight Ends Coach/Special Teams Cordinator Joe Pannunzio.