SEC spring preview: Alabama begins process of retooling

Bo Scarbrough is the favorite to replace Derrick Henry at running back, but Damien Harris should also get some carries. AP Photo/Butch Dill

Here’s a glimpse at what to expect from the Crimson Tide as they begin their quest to repeat as national champs.

2015 record: 14-1 (7-1), beat Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game

Final AP rank: No. 1

2016 Way-too-early rank: No. 1

2016 FPI rank: No. 6

Spring game date: April 16

Key losses: QB Jake Coker, RB Derrick Henry, C Ryan Kelly, CB Cyrus Jones, LB Reggie Ragland, DL Jarran Reed, DL A’Shawn Robinson

Key newcomers: OL Charles Baldwin, QB Jalen Hurts, DB Shawn Jennings, WR T.J. Simmons, OL Jonah Williams

1. Should anyone worry about the next QB?

Notice how we didn’t ask, “Who will be Alabama’s next QB?” After two years of guessing and coming up wrong, maybe it’s time to sit back and see what happens.

We thought two years ago that there was no way Blake Sims could win the job, and he did, setting a school record for passing yards in a single season. Then we said Jake Coker didn’t have ‘it’ and would be passed on the depth chart, and he wound up leading the Tide to a national championship.

So is the talented redshirt freshman Blake Barnett the frontrunner? Maybe. But by how much? Because you shouldn’t count out Cooper Bateman, who was the No. 2 last year, or David Cornwell, who was seen as a possible frontrunner after spring practice last year.

Chances are there won’t be a decision made over the next few weeks of practice, or coming out of A-Day. Lane Kiffin and his staff will go with their guts when the time is right, and after what we’ve seen from them the past two seasons, they deserve the benefit of the doubt.

2. Who replaces Derrick Henry?

Nick Saban never called on a running back as much as he did Henry. The two-back system he employed so effectively at Alabama essentially went out the window last year as Henry ran all the way to a Heisman Trophy.

Well it’s time to welcome it back.

Bo Scarbrough seems like the favorite to replace Henry, but chances are he’ll get some help in the form of Damien Harris.

What’s more, Saban and Co. will have to play it safe with Scarbrough’s health after two serious leg injuries in high school.

Scarbrough is enormous (6-foot-2, 240 pounds) and explosive, but showing he can handle the intricacies of the position (pass blocking, receiving, etc.) will be key in him winning the job. Otherwise, Harris, who carried the ball more than twice as many times as Scarbrough last season, could pull off the upset.

3. Can the defense be as good as last season?

Saying there’s been change on defense would be an understatement. It’s more like upheaval.

Yes, the routine exodus of players to the NFL draft hurts. Losing Jarran Reed, A’Shawn Robinson and Reggie Ragland in the front seven is tough to overcome. So is seeing Cyrus Jones and Geno Matias-Smith vacate the secondary. But what really causes some concern is that for the first time in eight years a new coach will be calling the defense.

While Jeremy Pruitt should represent as smooth a transition as possible given his previous experience on the staff, it remains to be seen how things change with Kirby Smart gone.

It also bears mentioning that Smart took defensive backs coach Mel Tucker with him after Tucker coaxed significant improvement from a unit that suffered a letdown the previous season.