Alabama opens spring practice as a heavy favorite to win the 2013 national championship. And with 14 starters back, there’s not much for the Crimson Tide to be concerned about heading into spring workouts. However, Nick Saban is always looking for ways for his team to get better, so Alabama isn’t going to cruise through spring workouts. With three starters departing, the offensive line should receive the most attention in preseason practice. The defense brings back eight starters, but cornerback Dee Milliner must be replaced. Make no mistake: There’s no shortage of talent in Tuscaloosa. The task for Saban and his staff is to get the new faces blended with the veterans to keep the Crimson Tide on top in 2013.
Alabama Crimson Tide 2013 Spring Preview
2012 Record: 13-1 (7-1)
Spring practice dates: March 16-April 20
Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 8
Passing: AJ McCarron, 211 of 314, 2,933 yards, 30 TDs, 3 INTs
Rushing: T.J. Yeldon, 175 car., 1,108 yards, 12 TDs
Receiving: Amari Cooper, 59 rec., 1,000 yards, 11 TDs
Tackles: C.J. Mosley, 107
Sacks: Adrian Hubbard, 7
Interceptions: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, 5
Redshirts to watch: WR Chris Black, OL Alphonse Taylor, OL Brandon Greene, LB Ryan Anderson, DL Korren Kirven, DL Dalvin Tomlinson
Early Enrollees to Watch: QB Cooper Bateman, OL Leon Brown (JC), WR Raheem Falkins, RB Derrick Henry, TE O.J. Howard, QB Parker McLeod
JUCO Transfers to Watch: OL Leon Brown
Aug. 31 Virginia Tech (Atlanta)
Sept. 7 Bye Week
Sept. 14 at Texas A&M
Sept. 21 Colorado State
Sept. 28 Ole Miss
Oct. 5 Georgia State
Oct. 12 at Kentucky
Oct. 19 Arkansas
Oct. 26 Tennessee
Nov. 9 LSU
Nov. 16 at Mississippi State
Nov. 23 Chattanooga
Nov. 30 at Auburn
Offensive Strength: Even with the departure of three of the nation’s best linemen, Alabama’s offense could be even better in 2013. Quarterback AJ McCarron is one of the best in the nation, the backfield is loaded with talent, and the receiving corps should rank near the top of the SEC.
Offensive Weakness: There’s no question the offensive line is the biggest issue for Alabama to address this spring. Two starters are back, but the Crimson Tide must replace three standouts in guard Chance Warmack, center Barrett Jones and tackle D.J. Fluker.
Defensive Strength: With six starters back, Alabama should once again have one of the best defenses in college football. The linebacking corps could be the best in the nation, and even though the secondary must replace Dee Milliner, there is no shortage of talent ready to step in.
Defensive Weakness: If there are any weaknesses on Alabama’s defense, the secondary and defensive line might be the place to look. The secondary loses standout cornerback Dee Milliner and safety Robert Lester. The defensive line must replace Damion Square, Jesse Williams and Quinton Dial. Neither unit is a huge weakness, but there are new faces stepping into the starting lineup.
Spring Storylines Facing the Crimson Tide
1. Replacing three starters on the offensive line. If Alabama wants to repeat as national champs, restocking the offensive line is the team’s top offseason priority. Replacing the production of Chance Warmack, Barrett Jones and D.J. Fluker will be nearly impossible, but the Crimson Tide should still have one of the top lines in the SEC. Left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio is ready for a breakout season, while guard Anthony Steen has 25 career starts. Ryan Kelly is expected to replace Jones at center, and he was impressive in limited action last season. The other two spots on the line are up for grabs, and new line coach Mario Cristobal would like to get an extended look at junior college recruit Leon Brown and incoming freshman Brandon Hill this spring. In addition to the spring newcomers, Arie Kouandjio, redshirt freshman Brandon Greene, juniors Austin Shepherd and Chad Lindsay and senior Kellen Williams will have an opportunity to fight for the two open spots. There’s no shortage of talent ready to step into the starting lineup for Alabama. However, can this unit quickly find its starting five and jell before a key early-season matchup against Texas A&M?
2. T.J. Yeldon’s backup. With Eddie Lacy moving onto the NFL, T.J. Yeldon is primed for a monster sophomore season. He rushed for 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns last year and caught 11 passes for 131 yards and one score. While Yeldon is one of the nation’s top backs, Alabama heads into spring practice looking for a No. 2 option. Dee Hart has suffered season-ending knee injuries in back-to-back years and is working at cornerback this spring. Kenyan Drake is expected to see an increase in carries after rushing for 281 yards last season, but the Crimson Tide is bringing in an impressive collection of running backs from their 2013 recruiting class. Derrick Henry, Tyren Jones, Alvin Kamara and Altee Tenpenny are expected to push for playing time this preseason and could give Alabama the deepest running back corps in the nation. Talent isn't an issue, but the Crimson Tide just need to settle on a pecking order to keep Yeldon fresh in 2013.
3. Who replaces Dee Milliner at cornerback? Alabama has ranked in the top 10 nationally in pass defense in back-to-back seasons, and even with the departure of Milliner, it should have the No. 1 secondary in the SEC in 2013. Milliner and safety Robert Lester will be missed, but talent isn’t an issue in Tuscaloosa. Junior college transfer Deion Belue had his share of ups and downs in his first season on campus but finished the year with 40 tackles and two interceptions. He should start at one of the corner spots, while sophomore Geno Smith and senior John Fulton will likely compete for the other job. Incoming freshman Maurice Smith, along with converted running back Dee Hart and receivers Cyrus Jones and Christion Jones are names to watch this preseason. The secondary should get a boost from the return of Jarrick Williams, who missed all of last season due to injury. Alabama doesn’t have a shutdown corner like Milliner on the roster, but the emergence of Smith and Fulton should help ease the loss of an All-American performer.
4. Who steps up on the defensive line? In a 3-4 scheme, defensive linemen aren’t going to post huge numbers. However, the Crimson Tide has three players to replace up front, including second-team All-SEC performer in nose guard Jesse Williams. Just as with every unit, Alabama may have losses, but there is talent waiting in the wings. Ed Stinson is an underrated player and recorded three sacks last year. Jeoffrey Pagan and Brandon Ivory are two players to watch in spring practice, as both could be breakout performers in 2013. Even if Stinson, Pagan and Ivory easily replace Williams, Damion Square and Quinton Dial, Alabama needs a couple of other bodies to emerge for depth.
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