This Bama Spring Is Different

Ah, spring! The air is still cool and crisp, the flowers are blooming, and the snap of pads colliding fill the air in Tuscaloosa yet again. But this is a different spring than any since Shula or Saban has led the boys out in the quickly greening grass.

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For all of the springs of the Shula-Saban era up to now, spring was a time to put the disappointment of last season behind you and hope that this would be the year that all the bad streaks would be broken.

Now, thanks to Nick Saban, some hard work, clever recruiting, and a little luck, Alabama starts the spring with no demons left to slay. Now instead of worrying about taking care of business this year against the many foes that have beaten them, the Crimson Tide can concentrate of winning titles again.

"Last year was a great year for our team, our school and our fans," Saban said. "We put the program back into contention for more than just wins. Now we take the next step and start finishing the season in such a way that we contend for titles."

It is hard to believe after last years success that this was this coming season was the one that most figured Alabama would break all the streaks that have gone against them and contend for an SEC title.

So with all this optimism in the air, both from last season's success and the continuing talent flow into Tuscaloosa, there are still some important question marks in the air to be answered.

Is the Tide up to the challenge again this year or did they peak too early? What can we expect from the Tide this year?

When I talked to Kirby Smart, Alabama's defensive coordinator recently, he felt things were still on the upswing.

"Last year we didn't care about showing other teams how good our defense was, we wanted to show each other," Smart said. "This year it's not about being a good defense, but a dominating defense, one that controls the flow of the game from kickoff to the final whistle."

With 9 of 11 starters returning from a defense that was one of the nation's best, it's hard to see that Alabama will have a lot of people and especially teams disagreeing with that statement.

"We lost some good leaders last year on both sides of the ball," Saban said. "This year we believe we have more talent to put on the field than we did last year. What remains to be seen is if we have the leaders rise to the top and fill that important leadership gap."

With Javier Arenas in the defensive backfield and Rolando McClain up near the line, I think the defense will have the leadership they need to not only maintain, but build upon their defensive excellence.

There is no question this defense will be up to the tasks and demands that will be placed on it this year.

The big question marks are of leadership and they fall squarely on the shoulders of the offense who seem to have many more question marks than exclamation marks.

Second year sophomore Mark Ingram should provide leadership among the running backs. Glen Coffee, last year's leader said he felt confident that his leaving would not affect the Tide because of the great play of other running backs and the glimpses of leadership he saw in Ingram.

There is no question that the Tide should not falter in the running game this year and should put up some equally great numbers.

Though there are seniors in the receiving corps, clearly the man who needs to step up and take control of that group is Julio Jones. Can Jones become more vocal and assertive and take on that role, or will senior Mike McCoy be the vocal leader and just let Julio play ball?

Clearly there's a question mark there.

"Losing two great seniors like Walker and McCall is a tough to replace," tight ends coach Bobby Williams told me recently at Alabama's recruiting signing day party. "But you saw that Brad Smelley and others can step up and we are expecting a great senior season out of Colin Peek so we feel the offense can continue to get lots of catches and great play from the tight end position this year."

Among the tight end prospects Colin Peek is the biggest question mark. He will enter his senior season, but it will be his first season playing in a Crimson uniform after sitting out a year after transferring from Georgia Tech. Can this senior with so little Tide playing time wrestle not only the job away, but the leadership role as well?

Clearly this is another question mark.

On the offensive line, there is no question mark on leadership. Senior tackle Mike Johnson will be both the inspirational as well as vocal leader on this line. With so much talent coming in this year, there is no way that I can give a question mark to this unit. With Johnson's leadership and all this raw talent, the offensive line will do just fine, though they may have some "uh oh" moments early on until they truly become a unit.

Which leads us to the most talked about position, quarterback. I remember reading an article years ago when we were recruiting McElroy. His high school coach said there are great quarterbacks and there a great leaders, but rarely do you find both in the same body. Greg McElroy is that kind of man.

He waited patiently on the bench in high school for the "star" to graduate, only to come in and take them all the way to a championship for his team. In doing so he proved the big star was on the bench for years just waiting to prove himself.

He'll do that again this year as well. There is no question mark here.

The number one question I am asked by people is, "Who is taking John Parker's place and is he any good?"

My answer is and has always been a resounding, "His name is Greg McElroy, and in my humble opinion, he's the best QB we've had at Alabama in a long time."

So this spring, it's so much more pleasant to start the year only trying to cross of question marks, than hoping to finally cross off losing streaks.

Finally hope and optimism are growing faster than the spring grass on the field at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

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