Alabama enters 2015 with high expectations, as coach Nick Saban’s team has the best roster in college football and has won 10 games in seven consecutive seasons. Last year ended on a down note with a loss to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, but the Crimson Tide figure to be back in the playoff mix once again. With plenty of victories on the recruiting trail over the last few years, the roster has a wealth of talent at every position. This spring is all about settling on a quarterback, reloading at receiver and addressing a few holes in the secondary.
5 Storylines to Watch in Alabama’s Spring Practice
1. Jake Coker’s Job to Lose?
After transferring from Florida State last offseason, Jake Coker was expected to win the starting quarterback job over Blake Sims. However, Sims started all 14 games, and Coker threw only 59 passes in relief duty. Sims expired his eligibility, which means it’s Coker’s job to lose this spring. He will be pushed by talented freshmen Blake Barnett and David Cornwell, along with Cooper Bateman and Alec Morris. Will Coker claim the job this spring? Or will the battle extend into the fall?
2. New Options at Receiver
Amari Cooper was the best receiver in college football last season, and he caught 124 of Alabama’s 290 pass attempts in 2014. Not only does coordinator Lane Kiffin have to replace Cooper, but Christion Jones (19 catches) and DeAndrew White (40) also depart. This spring is all about finding the next wave of standouts at the receiver spot. Talent isn’t an issue here, starting with tight end O.J. Howard and receivers Chris Black, Robert Foster and Cam Sims. Keep an eye on true freshman Calvin Ridley once he arrives on campus this summer. How quickly can Alabama reload at receiver?
3. New Starters on the Offensive Line
Three starters are gone from an offensive line that allowed only 16 sacks in 2014. Much as the case at receiver, Alabama has talent and options to restock. The rebuilding effort starts with rising star Cam Robinson at left tackle, while center Ryan Kelly is one of the best in the SEC. Finding three starters shouldn’t be a problem for line coach Mario Cristobal, especially with experienced options like Alphonse Taylor, Dominick Jackson and Bradley Bozeman available. Redshirt freshman Ross Pierschbacher is also expected to factor into the mix. Finding a starting five and allowing this unit time to jell will be critical for Alabama’s chances at a national title in 2015.
4. Finding the Right Mix in the Secondary
For the second offseason in a row, Alabama’s secondary will take the spotlight on the defensive side in spring ball. The Crimson Tide allowed 19 passes of 30 or more yards last season, and there’s question marks at cornerback and safety that must be addressed. Landon Collins and Nick Perry depart at safety, while the cornerback spot opposite of Cyrus Jones is up for grabs. Will sophomore Hootie Jones claim a starting spot to help alleviate the loss of Collins? Will Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey emerge at corner? Or will incoming freshmen Minkah Fitzpatrick and Kendall Sheffield push for snaps in the fall?
5. Replacing Trey DePriest at Linebacker
Alabama’s front seven has a chance to be the best in the nation in 2015. There are a few holes to address, but once again, talent is there to fill the gaps. Trey DePriest and Xzavier Dickson depart at linebacker, and this should be an opportunity for Reuben Foster, Shaun Dion Hamilton or Rashaan Evans to stake their case for more snaps.
Pre-Spring Outlook on Alabama in the SEC:
It seems like a broken record, but it’s worth mentioning again: Alabama’s roster is overflowing with talent. The Crimson Tide has won the “recruiting championship” five years in a row. Winning the national title is within reach, but Nick Saban’s team needs a quarterback to emerge, along with options at receiver to replace Amari Cooper. The defense will rank among the best in the nation once again. But the secondary – especially without Landon Collins – remains a concern. Road trips to Georgia and Auburn are the toughest games on the schedule and could determine just how high this team climbs in the playoff picture.