Alabama has announced that the spring game this year will take place on April 20 and will even be televised by ESPN2. But before the game and the celebrations arrive, there are spring practices and it provides a chance for every player to prove himself to the coaching staff.
With the roster changing and positions opening up, backups from a season ago feel that their time has finally arrived for them to become starters. Even a few players who were on the first team last season could be in jeopardy of losing playing time due to a younger player stepping his game up. The spring is a chance for anybody and everybody to make an impact, and the outcome will play a factor in how the final depth chart looks in September.
As we slowly begin to enter the spring and everything that comes with it, here are a few Alabama players who need to shine when the practices and spring game takes place.
Not one of the most documented position battles entering spring practice, but the safety spot remains up for grabs. In the competition for the starting strong safety position, it will be a battle between last year’s starter Vinnie Sunseri and rising sophomore Landon Collins.
Sunseri was solid last season, finishing fourth on the team with 54 tackles and intercepting two passes. The problem is that he was a liability in pass coverage and sometimes missed tackles in the open field.
This is where Collins comes in to play, as he was a top recruit in the 2012 recruiting class. Known for being a physical player on the field and displaying solid coverage skills, the younger guy in this battle may be the better fit for the Alabama defense. Collins came off the bench in every game last season, finishing with 17 tackles.
Sunseri is currently listed as the projected starter on the latest Alabama depth chart, but all of that could change with a great spring practice. With all of the hype Collins had coming out of high school, it is time for him to step up and prove he can hold down the fort.
The wide receiver position is an area that Alabama does not need to worry about. There is talent all over the place and it is really a matter of who is going to shine the most to earn more playing time than the next man.
Amari Cooper earned his starting spot with a wonderful freshman season last year and Kevin Norwood will likely remain a starter as well. However, that third spot remains up for grabs with guys such as Kenny Bell, Christion Jones, DeAndrew White and Chris Black all fighting for position.
Black was a freshman last season and big things were expected of him in 2012 before he was forced to have shoulder surgery. He ended up missing the entire season and taking a redshirt due to the injury, but Nick Saban and his staff did consider playing him in the SEC Championship Game.
The speedy wide receiver is obviously healthy and ready to go. Now it is a question if he can fight off the many players who are battling for playing time and earn the buzz that he was generating a year ago.
When a starter ends up leaving the team, the backup is usually the guy who feels obligated to be the replacement the following year. But this is Alabama and there is nothing handed to you at any position. So with Jesse Williams now out of the picture at nose guard, Brandon Ivory will have to fight off several players for that starting spot.
Ivory has spent three years with Alabama and has played during the last two. He saw increased playing time last year, playing in 12 games and starting his first game of his career in a game against Kentucky. He finished the year with 22 tackles and one tackle for loss.
Ivory has the size at 6'4", 315 pounds and the experience to fill in the shoes that Williams left behind. But with a talented sophomore in Darren Lake, who saw playing time last year as a freshman, the starting nose guard position isn't guaranteed as it would appear. Dakota Ball and William Ming will also have their say as well.
This is a position that Alabama fans should watch closely; it will take a great spring by Ivory to keep the rest of the competition off of his back.
The main concern with this Alabama team is the offensive line. Usually the strength of Nick Saban-coached teams, the unit from a year ago only brings back two starters. One of the positions up for grabs is at right tackle with D.J. Fluker taking his talents to the NFL.
Austin Shepherd is considered the front-runner to play the position, but he will have a couple of young guys fighting him for playing time this spring. Shepherd has been the backup for two straight seasons and he saw limited action last season in nine games. At 6'5", 312 pounds, he has the size and the aggressiveness to fit in nicely along the offensive line.
But there are two true freshmen in 4-star Leon Brown and 3-star Brandon Hill who feel they have what it takes to see immediate playing time. This is why both of these young men have decided to enroll early to put increased pressure on Shepherd and try to gain a leg up in the competition.
Shepherd needs to do what he can to separate himself during the spring in a battle that will likely last through fall camp.
Much like the wide receiver position for Alabama, this is a team that doesn't have to worry at all about running backs. With more than enough guys who can carry the workload, the Crimson Tide may in fact have too many running backs than they know what to do with.
T.J. Yeldon will likely become the starter now that Eddie Lacy has taken off for the next level. As for the No. 2 spot, well, that is where the controversy begins. Kenyan Drake showed a lot of potential last year as a freshman, rushing for 281 yards on only 42 carries and scoring six touchdowns. With a year under his belt and an increased workload next season, one would think he could become a valuable player.
However, both Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart will be returning after suffering knee injuries last season. Either one are more than capable of stealing carries away from Drake with consistent performances during the offseason. Alabama also has 5-star running back Derrick Henry enrolling early and he should also make a case for significant touches.
Alabama is loaded at the running back position, and while all players will receive equal opportunity to prove themselves, it will be the guy who shines during the spring that will become the favorite for that No. 2 spot.