Opening spring camp: Alabama

March, 9, 2012
3/09/12
9:00
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Schedule: Alabama opens spring practice on Friday at 4:30 p.m. ET and will then take the next week off for spring break before resuming practice on March 19. The A-Day spring game is scheduled for April 14 at 3 p.m. ET and will be televised live by CSS.

What’s new: Doug Nussmeier comes over from Washington as Alabama’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. He replaces Jim McElwain, who left for the head coaching job at Colorado State. Lance Thompson returns for his second stint on the Alabama staff as outside linebackers coach. He replaces Sal Sunseri, who left to take the Tennessee defensive coordinator’s job.

On the mend: Running back Eddie Lacy (turf toe) and offensive tackle Arie Kouandjio (knee) will miss the spring while recovering from surgeries. Linebacker C.J. Mosley has been cleared to practice after dislocating his hip in the BCS National Championship Game, but will be limited in contact situations.

On the move: Redshirt freshman Brent Calloway will spend the spring at weak side linebacker after playing running back last season. Barrett Jones, who won the Outland Trophy last season as the Crimson Tide’s left tackle, will get some work at center. If Cyrus Kouandjio is as good as Alabama thinks he is and takes care of business at left tackle, Jones may end up staying at center. Defensive end Jesse Williams is likely to get a look at nose guard. Finding a nose guard will be a priority for the Tide with Josh Chapman departing.

Key battle: The Crimson Tide will be looking for playmakers at receiver. Junior Kenny Bell is the leading returning pass-catcher, and he caught 17 passes last season. Alabama will also look for more consistency from sophomore DeAndrew White, who’s shown flashes of big-play ability. Junior Kevin Norwood played well in the BCS National Championship Game, and highly regarded freshmen Chris Black and Omari Cooper graduated high school early and will go through spring practice. Duron Carter’s status is up in the air. He remains suspended. Quarterback AJ McCarron likes the potential of this group. The Tide may look to throw it down the field a little more next season, but they need a go-to guy or guys to emerge.

New faces: The Crimson Tide have eight early enrollees, counting junior college players, who will be participating in spring practice. Travell Dixon and Deion Belue are a pair of junior college cornerbacks who will compete for playing time right away. The 6-1, 191-pound Dixon was rated among the top junior college cornerbacks in the country last year. Running back T.J. Yeldon headlines the true freshmen who will be out there this spring for the Tide. He was ranked by ESPN as the No. 4 running back prospect in the country last year. In addition to Yeldon, Black and Cooper, linebackers Dillon Lee and Ryan Anderson were also ESPNU 150 members, while Alphonse Taylor is a newcomer that will get a look at nose guard.

Breaking out: Courtney Upshaw and Dont’a Hightower made a ton of plays at linebacker last season for Alabama, and they both lined up as pass-rushers on third down. Sophomore Adrian Hubbard is a guy who could replace Upshaw in that “Jack” linebacker role. At 6-6 and 240 pounds, Hubbard has the tools to be a very good pass-rusher. The same goes for sophomore Xzavier Dickson.

Don’t forget about: With Lacy out for the spring, it will be interesting to see who emerges at running back. Junior Jalston Fowler, sophomore Blake Sims and redshirt freshman Dee Hart will get plenty of reps this spring. And so will Yeldon, who has that ideal mix of size and speed. Lacy’s poised to be the go-to back in the fall, but the No. 2 job is wide open. And the No. 2 back at Alabama has been a big part of the offense the past few seasons.

All eyes on: The secondary was the most improved part of Alabama’s team last season. The Crimson Tide were talented and disciplined back there. That’s after mental errors plagued them the year before thanks mostly to inexperience. With safety Mark Barron and cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick and DeQuan Menzie moving on, there will be some key spots to fill in the fall. Junior Dee Milliner returns at one cornerback, and don’t be surprised if he develops into an All-SEC player. Senior safety Robert Lester is the veteran of the group. It’s a big spring for junior cornerback John Fulton, and the addition of both Dixon and Belue will make for some serious competition at cornerback. Sophomore Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is the front-runner at the other safety, but Alabama routinely plays five and six defensive backs. Sophomore Vinnie Sunseri and juniors Jarrick Williams and Nick Perry will all be vying to crack that rotation.

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