Alabama Football: Spring Practice Begins

MARK HERRENContributor IMarch 13, 2009

It’s been roughly 70 days since the University of Alabama football team was last seen walking off the field at the Sugar Bowl.

The Crimson Tide will return to the field today to begin spring practice, which will culminate April 18 with the annual A-Day Game shown nationally on ESPN.

Today’s workout was moved up before spring break to avoid holding a practice on Easter weekend. Otherwise, the Tide will essentially stick to a Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday schedule in the future.

It also signals the end of the brutal fourth-quarter conditioning program for players, which includes a whole lot of running.

Today will be mostly about debuts. There are plenty of new faces on campus this spring.

New coaches include new Assistant/Linebackers Coach Sal Sunseri and Associate Head Coach/Linebackers Coach James Willis.

Although he already had the title of Defensive Coordinator/Secondary Coach, the defense is clearly Kirby Smart’s unit now with former coordinator Kevin Steele moved to Clemson.

New players wearing crimson and white for the first time will be lineman James Carpenter, Chance Warmack, Kerry Murphy, and running back Jermaine Preyear.

These new arrivals are getting a jump on the rest of the recruiting class, as all other players will arrive on campus over the summer. B.J. Scott is expected to line up at defensive back, and head coach Nick Saban indicated one young outside linebacker will probably move inside, with Jerrell Harris getting the first look. A outside linebacker to watch for is Chris Jordan.

There are also three key position battles to keep an eye on. At quarterback, Saban has said there is no timetable for naming a starter between Greg McElroy, Star Jackson, and Thomas Darrah. McElroy is the only one of the three with playing experience and is the most familiar with the offense.

Alabama native A.J. McCarron also joins the team this summer. He may not compete for the starting job in his freshman season, but should earn some valuable experience.

“We’re just going to have to let things happen over the course of spring practice,” Saban said. “I think it’ll be pretty (important) for those guys in terms of their improvement and getting the confidence of the other players on the team.”

New starters need to be found at left tackle, center, and right guard, but expect the competition to continue into the fall.

Finding a new starting safety to replace Rashad Johnson may be the biggest challenge of the offseason. Ali Sharrief, Tyrone King Jr., and Mark Barron are the leading candidates.

The team will practice without pads today and again during the first practice after break, March 23. Wide receiver Earl Alexander (shoulder) and running back Roy Upchurch (neck) will be kept from contact following offseason surgery.