Spring fever: Alabama

A crowd of 84,050 people showed up to watch Alabama's spring game, which was roughly 83,000 more than showed up for SEC rival Vanderbilt's.

Clearly, the gap between the league's haves and its have-nots remains substantial – in terms of interest and also in terms of talent. Bama, despite the loss of quarterback John Parker Wilson and running back Glen Coffee from last year's 12-2 team, is still loaded.

That's especially true on defense, where the Tide returns six members of a 2008 front seven that helped limit foes to 263.5 total yards (third-best nationally) and 74.1 rushing yards (second-best nationally). All told, 13 of the top 15 tacklers are back from that defense.

The key defenders, of course, are linebacker Rolando McClain, who recorded a team-high 95 tackles last fall, and 6-5, 380-pound nose guard Terrence "Mount" Cody. Both are on the preseason watch list for the Lott Trophy and the Lombardi Award.

Alabama's offense wasn't asked to do much last season, and it may be asked to do even less this fall. That's probably a good thing because, minus Parker Wilson and Coffee, points could be a little difficult to come by.

The heir-apparent at quarterback is junior Greg McElroy, who completed 16 of 30 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game. Heralded redshirt freshman Star Jackson attempted 13 passes but finished with nearly as many interceptions (2) as completions (4) en route to 52 passing yards.

McElroy has one of college football's premier receivers at his disposal in sophomore Julio Jones, who caught 58 balls for 924 yards as a true freshman last fall. Fellow wideout Marquis Maze made a splash in the spring game, catching five passes for 87 yards and sharing (with McElroy) the Dixie Howell Award as the game's Most Valuable Player.

Head coach Nick Saban called Maze "a guy that can be a real play maker for us in the future. I am very, very encouraged by the spring that he had."

Bama may be forced to rely more on its air attack than a year ago, when the Tide averaged 40 rushes and 24 passes per game. There does not appear to be another Glen Coffee on campus. Terry Grant led all rushers in the spring game with 27 yards on 10 carries.

The Tide should be strong on special teams again, thanks to the return of kicker Leigh Tiffin and electrifying Javier Arenas, who enters his senior year averaging 13.5 yards per punt return.

Bottom line: Alabama's defense could be even stouter than a year ago. Unless a productive rusher can be found to take some pressure off of McElroy, however, Bama may have to win a lot of games by 13-7 scores.

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