As spring practice approaches, Alabama fans are eager to catch a glimpse of their favorite returning players to see the progress they've made. But fans will also be looking for new names to emerge as key future contributors for the Crimson Tide this spring. These are the players most likely to go from relative unknowns to key members of the Crimson Tide roster this spring.
QB, Jr., 6'3", 218
As a high school backup to Chase Daniel, McElroy patiently waited his turn until his senior season in which he eventually broke nearly every passing record on the books in the state of Texas. After arriving at Alabama, McElroy was again asked to wait patiently through John Parker Wilson's three-year tenure as the Tide's starting QB, and now it looks as though once again the young Texan will get his chance to shine.
Tide fans liked what little they saw of McElroy last season, particularly the perfectly tossed touchdown bomb late in the game against Auburn, but he'll need to produce plenty of plays like that this spring to hold off stiff competition from the young and talented Star Jackson.
OL, Jr., 6'5", 305
Arguably Nick Saban's biggest recruiting success in 2008 was junior college transfer Terrence Cody, a massive, immovable object who came in ready to play from day one. Saban is taking the same approach to plugging in one of the three holes on his offensive line by bringing in Carpenter, a junior college offensive lineman with a wide frame and a body that's ready to compete in the SEC.
Carpenter will likely factor into the battles at both guard and tackle this spring since he has the size and athleticism to play either position.
DB, So., 6'2", 210
Unquestionably one of the best athletes on the roster in Tuscaloosa, Barron saw playing time last season on special teams and occasionally at safety, where he is likely to compete for a starting role this spring.
Saban has publicly stated that Barron is his ideal safety from a physical standpoint, so if the speedy and hard-hitting Mobile native can prove he can handle the mental responsibilities of the position this spring, he may well lock down the job for the foreseeable future.
DB, So., 5'11", 188
After a largely unsuccessful stint as a wide receiver in 2008, Scott will move to what many believe is his natural position this spring—defensive back. Scott's quickness and athleticism made him one of the most feared defensive backs in the Southeast as a high school superstar, and he wasn't able to utilize those skills as an offensive playmaker. Scott may actually get his hands on the ball more often as a defensive back than he did as a wide receiver.
TE, Sr., 6'6", 241
Tight end is one spot where Alabama will need someone to step in quickly and fill the shoes of not one but two key playmakers from last season. Sophomore Brad Smelley has shown he can step in and fill the receiving tight end role vacated by Nick Walker, but the coaches will likely turn to Georgia Tech transfer Peek to replace the blocking tight end responsibilities of Travis McCall.
Peek has the frame of an interior lineman but the quickness and explosiveness needed to make key blocks in the open field. His excellent receiving skills could also make him more of a threat in the passing game than McCall was, making him potentially the most complete tight end Alabama has seen in years.
WR, So., 6'1", 192
Critics of the Tide have pointed out that while Julio Jones is among the nation's top receivers, he could be even better if defenses had to account for a legitimate second receiver. Among the many candidates for that role will be sophomore Brandon Gibson, who has seen limited playing time thus far in his career but has impressed teammates and coaches this offseason with his work ethic in the weight room.
Gibson's not the fastest receiver on the team, nor the biggest or strongest, but he may just have the right combination of all three to make the perfect accompaniment to Jones at wideout.
John Michael Boswell
OL, So., 6'5", 300
Of Alabama's three 2008 offensive line signees, Boswell came in with the lowest profile, due in part to his early commitment to Alabama. But this Tuscaloosa native had the physical tools to earn playing time as a true freshman and was even trusted to hold down the right tackle spot during the Sugar Bowl.
While most eyes will be focused on the vacant left tackle, center, and right guard spots, Alabama fans should keep an eye on right tackle, where Boswell just might give returning starter Drew Davis a run for his money this spring.
OL, Jr., 6'3", 295
The discussion about filling the hole left by Marlon Davis at right guard must begin with Ross, a hard-working, underrated interior lineman who has impressed coaches in practice throughout his time at Alabama. Ross has seen limited minutes in his time at Alabama but has always remained the top substitute at both guard spots. Expect him to make the most of his opportunity this spring to finally secure a starting job on the front line.
RB, Fr., 5'11", 205
Lost amidst the buzz and excitement of Alabama's 2008 recruiting class was this unheralded gem of a running back who ended up taking a greyshirt season and delaying his enrollment in order to recover from an offseason shoulder injury.
Preyear's combination of power, quickness, and toughness make him the kind of between-the-tackles runner that Saban can't seem to get enough of, and with the departure of Glen Coffee and the uncertainty over Roy Upchurch's health, Preyear has an opportunity to earn some serious carries this spring.
DL, Fr., 6'5", 320
They said it when he signed with Alabama in 2007...and again in 2008...and again this year: Kerry Murphy is a freak, an incredibly athletic big man (his ability to do backflips in full pads made him an Internet legend as a recruit) who could play offensive tackle or nose guard for the Tide.
He's just a couple of cheeseburgers lighter than Terrence Cody, whom he will likely replace in 2010, and will finally give Tide fans their first long-awaited look at him in a crimson uniform this spring. Murphy's versatility, size, and uncommon athleticism make him a name you need to know this spring.