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Monday, March 21, 2011
Opening spring camp: Alabama

By Chris Low

Schedule: The Crimson Tide will open practice Monday afternoon and conclude the spring with their A-Day spring game on April 16. It will be televised live by ESPNU with a 3 p.m. ET kickoff.

What’s new: Veteran offensive line coach Joe Pendry retired following the 2010 season and was replaced by Jeff Stoutland, who’d been Miami’s offensive line coach the previous four seasons. Mike Groh takes over as the Crimson Tide’s receivers coach and will also serve as recruiting coordinator. Chris Rumph was hired away from Clemson to replace Bo Davis as Alabama’s defensive line coach. Davis took a job on Texas’ staff.

On the mend: Defensive tackle Kerry Murphy, receiver Kendall Kelly and defensive back Wesley Neighbors will miss spring practice with injuries. Safety Mark Barron will be limited while recovering from surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle.

On the move: Sophomore Ed Stinson, who spent most of last season at linebacker, is making the move full time to defensive end.

Key battle: Steady Greg McElroy threw 37 touchdown passes and just nine interceptions the past two seasons in leading the Crimson Tide to a 24-3 record, including a national championship in 2009. His departure sets up what will be one of the most closely watched battles in the league this spring. Sophomore AJ McCarron and redshirt freshman Phillip Sims will duke it out for Alabama’s starting quarterback job. McCarron goes in as the guy to beat and is oozing with talent, but Sims can also throw it and has been looking forward to his opportunity on this stage.

New faces: Alabama welcomed nine enrollees in January who will be participating in spring practice, and at the head of the list are former Arizona Western College teammates Aaron Douglas and Jesse Williams. Douglas will vie for the starting job at left offensive tackle. He started his career at Tennessee and was a Freshman All-American for the Vols in 2009. The 6-4, 330-pound Williams has a chance to be an early impact guy at nose guard. A third junior college signee, Quinton Dial, will factor in at defensive end. Heralded running back Dee Hart of Orlando, Fla., is talented enough to warrant some carries next fall. He'll go through spring practice along with five other high school early enrollees -- receiver Ronald Carswell, quarterback Phillip Ely, defensive end Wilson Love and linebackers Vinnie Sunseri and Trey DePriest.

Breaking out: Senior jack linebacker Courtney Upshaw finished fifth in the SEC last season with 14.5 tackles for loss, and had six of those in his final two games against Auburn and Michigan State. You won't find Upshaw's name on any of the first- or second-team All-SEC lists from the past season, but he’s poised to make that jump and then some in 2011. The 6-2, 263-pound Upshaw returns as one of the best pass-rushers in the league.

Don’t forget about: Junior running back Trent Richardson wasn’t 100 percent for the latter half of the season a year ago, and it showed. But with Mark Ingram gone to the NFL, there are going to be a ton of carries coming Richardson’s way next season. Look for him to remind everybody why he’s one of the most feared offensive playmakers in the SEC.

All eyes on: An inexperienced secondary cost the Crimson Tide last season, especially when it came to blown assignments. Getting that unit to play with more discipline could be the difference between returning to the SEC championship game for the third time in four years and staying at home for the second straight year.