Alabama Football Back At Practice

Alabama's football team returned to the practice field to begin spring practice Friday and there were announcements of a couple of players who won't return to the team, some position experiments, and some clarification on the status of a suspended player. But it was, as Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban said, just a starting point.

Alabama had a two-hour workout as a Bama team somewhat different than the one that won the Crimson Tide's 13th national championship in early January had the first of 15 spring practice dates. Although Alabama had a little less time for its off-season program between the late bowl game and the start of drills, Saban said he thought the Fourth Quarter program of strength and conditioning had been good.

"I thought the conditioning of the team was good, the spirit was good, the attitude was good and a lot of guys worked hard," Saban said. "I was really pleased with the starting point we have as a team. Obviously, the most important thing is not where we were today, but how much we improve each and every day we have an opportunity to practice."

He said the spring work gives the coaches an opportunity to teach and players a chance to become better players and gain toughness. He also said the team should "develop an identity," making it clear that this team is not the 2009 team that won the national championship.

Saban said two fifth year players who have earned their degrees will not continue in football. They are tailback Terry Grant, who has been injured the past two years, and wide receiver Travis Sikes.

Saban went to pains to explain that a depth chart on the first day of practice has no meaning, that it is for "organizational purposes" to allow players to get as many repetitions as possible. He said there would be times when a first team player might be working with third team players in order to conduct practice.

The Tide coach also noted that some players may get work at new positions in the spring as Alabama attempts to find "the best 22 and the best 22 behind them," but as always it is emphasized that changes are not necessarily permanent. Also, there may be other position moves during spring work. He added that there are a lot of jobs available because Alabama "lost a lot of good players. We need to identify guys who can help our team."

He said that redshirt freshman Kendall Kelly, who came to Bama as a wide receiver, is working at defensive back; junior Brandon Gibson, another wide receiver, will work both in the secondary and continue working at wide receiver; Jalston Fowler, who entered The University in January as a running back, is working with linebackers; and sophomore Undra Billingsley, who started at Bama as a defensive lineman, then moved to tight end last year, is back on the defensive line.

Junior safety Robby Green had been suspended earlier in the semester and was not on the practice field Friday, but Saban said Green missed for an unspecified personal reason and would be practicing with the squad when drills resume March 22. The time between first and second practices is because The University is on spring break.

Saban's fist injury report included mostly good news about linebacker Dont'a Hightower, even though the junior star did not practice Friday. Hightower, who was lost for the season early last fall when he suffered a serious knee injury, had not been expected to take part in contact work this spring. Saban said Hightower missed Friday because of a "little strained calf." The coach said the injury needs time off. He said he expected Hightower to be taking part in drills later, although he said a decision would be made later as to whether Hightower might participate in scrimmage work.

Saban said that junior center William Vlachos had off-season foot surgery and would not practice this spring. Senior wide receiver Earl Alexander has a stress fracture that will limit his work. Sophomore wide receiver Michael Bowman is slowed with an abdominal pull.

Friday's practice was in shorts and helmets. Alabama will ordinarily practice Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with the final work the A-Day Game at Bryant-Denny Stadium on April 17. Kickoff for the game will be at 2 p.m. CDT and there is no admission charge for the game. ESPN will televise the event nationwide.

  In addition to Jalston Fowler, newcomers include freshmen kicker Cade Foster, cornerback John Fulton, offensive lineman Chad Lindsay, cornerback DeMarcus Milliner, offensive lineman Austin Shepherd, and quarterback Phillip Sims, and junior college defensive lineman Brandon Lewis.

Alabama also welcomed a familiar face in a new role on the coaching staff. Jeremy Pruitt, who has spent the past three seasons as the Tide's director of Player Development, replaced the departed James Willis as an assistant coach. Willis had been an inside linebackers coach, but a University announcement said that Pruitt will coach the secondary.

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