Tide opens spring drills with emphasis on line
Two-time defending national champion Alabama will open spring drills this afternoon on Thomas-Drew Field in Tuscaloosa and while many of the popular faces return, key positions on both sides of the line of scrimmage will have to be replaced.
Quarterback A.J. McCarron, tailback T.J. Yeldon and receivers Amari Cooper, Kevin Norwood and Christion Jones return, along with injured receivers DeAndrew White, Kenny Bell and Chris Black, leaving few questions when it comes to the skill positions.
But three starters from what has been called the best offensive line in Crimson Tide history will have to be replaced, along with tight end Michael Williams and placekicker Jeremy Shelley.
Sophomore Ryan Kelly may have the biggest shoes to fill, stepping in to follow a tradition of standout centers at Alabama under Nick Saban - Antoine Caldwell, William Vlachos and Barrett Jones, the 2012 starter. Arie Kouandjio could line up at left guard next to his younger brother, 2012 starter Cyrus Kouandjio, but the spring will provide an opportunity for January enrollees Leon Brown and Brandon Hill to contribute.
The same can be said at H-back, where Kelly Johnson graduated and his backup, Brent Calloway, was dismissed in the wake of a February campus incident that included a pair of robberies of university students. The void could provide a good opportunity for January enrollee O.J. Howard of Autauga Academy, who could also see time in Williams’ position at tight end.
Other January enrollees that could earn more playing time in the annual A-Day game on April 20 include running back Derrick Henry and quarterbacks Cooper Bateman, Parker McLeod and walk-on Luke Del Rio.
Defensively, four of the top five linebackers return -- Adrian Hubbard, Trey DePriest, C.J. Mosley and Xzavier Dickson -- along with cornerback Deion Belue and safeties Vinnie Sunseri, HaHa Clinton-Dix and Nick Perry. But there is concern about finding someone to replace lockdown corner Demarcus Milliner and linemen Damion Square, Quinton Dial and Jesse Williams, who manned two of the three defensive line positions.
Geon Smith, the fifth defensive back in passing situations, is one of the likely candidates to take Milliner’s spot, while backup Jeoffrey Pagan is the top choice to line up in the position formerly filled by Square and Dial and backup Brandon Ivory should start in Jesse Williams’ spot at nose guard. Of course, the Tide will be looking for depth this spring and head coach Nick Saban rarely releases a depth chart, so the spring will provide an opportunity for several players to showcase their talents at each position.
Two other January enrollees to keep an eye on this spring on the defensive side of the ball include Raheem Falkins, a two-way star in high school at receiver and defensive back, and 28-year-old Jai Miller, the former Montgomery native who was a three-sport standout at Selma High before playing Major League Baseball.
After today’s practice, the Tide will practice three times next week before taking a week off for spring break.