- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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Schedule: The Crimson Tide will open spring practice on Saturday and conclude the spring with their annual A-Day spring game on April 20 at 3 p.m. ET in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
What’s new: Former Florida International head coach Mario Cristobal will coach the Alabama offensive line. He replaces Jeff Stoutland, who left to become the Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive line coach. Billy Napier is the Crimson Tide’s new receivers coach and replaces Mike Groh, who left to take a job with the Chicago Bears. Also, Greg Brown will replace Jeremy Pruitt as secondary coach. Pruitt left to take the Florida State defensive coordinator’s job.
On the mend: Senior cornerback John Fulton (toe) and senior receiver Kevin Norwood (toe) will be limited this spring. Fulton is recovering from toe surgery.
On the move: Alabama’s deep enough at receiver that receivers Christion Jones and/or Cyrus Jones could get a look at cornerback this spring.
New faces: The Crimson Tide have nine early enrollees who will go through spring practice. Included are two of their most highly rated true freshmen in the 2013 class – running back Derrick Henry and tight end O.J. Howard. Alabama would like to get the 6-6, 235-pound Howard involved in the passing game right away. Junior college newcomer Leon Brown will get a long look at right tackle on the offensive line.
Key battle: With three starters gone in the offensive line, the battle for the right tackle job could be a closely contested one. Junior Austin Shepherd probably enters the spring as the guy to beat, but don’t count out Brown.
Breaking out: There hasn’t been any shortage of marquee cornerback talent to come through Alabama over the last few years, and sophomore Geno Smith looks like he could be the next great one. He’s poised to take Dee Milliner’s spot and saw his role expand as last season progressed. By the end of the season, he was the Tide’s third defensive back on passing downs. Staying in the secondary, look for talented sophomore Landon Collins to make his presence felt at safety. And on offense, sophomore center Ryan Kelly was impressive during pre-bowl practices last December while filling in for the injured Barrett Jones and working with the first unit.
Don’t forget about: Alabama should be as deep and talented at receiver as it’s been under Nick Saban. Sophomore Amari Cooper returns as one of the premier playmakers in the league. But the Tide will also add redshirt freshman Chris Black to the mix, and Black would have played a lot last season had he not injured his shoulder during the preseason. He’s the one who turned heads during the spring game. Norwood isn’t expected to be out there much this spring, but senior Kenny Bell should be back from a broken leg. And there’s also junior DeAndrew White, who missed most of last season with a knee injury.
All eyes on: T.J. Yeldon was sensational last season while sharing time in the Alabama backfield with Eddie Lacy. They became the first two players in Alabama history to both rush for 1,000 yards in the same season. With Lacy leaving early for the NFL draft, Yeldon gets his shot to be the feature back, although Alabama has played multiple backs under Saban. Everybody will be watching the 6-3, 242-pound Henry this spring after he racked up an incredible 4,261 rushing yards as a high school senior. Don’t sleep on junior Jalston Fowler and sophomore Kenyan Drake. How healthy is sophomore Dee Hart after a couple of knee injuries? There’s also more talent on the way this summer when true freshmen Altee Tenpenny, Alvin Kamara and Alvin Jones arrive. The Tide just seem to breed great running backs.
2dSam Khan Jr.