While fans across the country may view spring football differently, do not tell fans of the Alabama Crimson Tide that spring games are not a big deal.
Since Nick Saban’s arrival at the Capstone in 2007, Alabama’s annual A-Day game has averaged slightly more than 86,000 fans in attendance.
Bryant-Denny Stadium will once again be filled with Crimson-clad faithful on April 20 for the 2013 A-Day game.
Due to Saban’s strict policies on media access, the A-Day game represents the best chance for Tide supporters to catch their first glimpse of a squad expected to be in contention to capture a third consecutive national title.
What can fans expect to see from the 2013 edition of the Tide when they take the field for the A-Day game in April?
Here is a breakdown of what to watch for in anticipation of Alabama’s spring game.
A-Day Game Info
Date: April 20, 2013
Time: 3:00 p.m. EST
Practice Schedule: Begins March 21, Ends April 20
TV Info: ESPN 2
What to Watch for on Offense
Alabama brings back 13 starters combined on offense and defense—with quarterback A.J. McCarron’s return bolstering an offense that topped the 30-point mark in 12 of 14 contests a year ago.
The offensive line—which loses three decorated members from its segment this year and will be breaking in a new position coach to boot—will likely be Saban’s prime area of focus when practices begin on March 21.
Aside from the loss of running back Eddie Lacy and tight end Michael Williams, the skill positions return largely intact. Super sophomores T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper are two of the nation’s top talents at their respective positions.
The continued development of the receiver unit and the competition at the running back and tight end spots will also be areas of interest.
Running back Derrick Henry and tight end O.J. Howard headline a class of impact early enrollee freshmen to keep an eye on for the offense.
What to Watch for on Defense
Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will return seven starters from a defense that led the nation in scoring, rushing and total defense in 2012.
The biggest area to focus on in spring will be the defensive line—which lost ends Damion Square and Quinton Dial in addition to standout nose tackle Jesse Williams.
Another area Saban will pay close attention to will be the situation at corner. With Dee Milliner off to the NFL, seniors Deion Belue and John Fulton will have to fight off talented younger players like sophomores Geno Smith, Bradley Sylve and Jabriel Washington.
Linebackers C.J. Mosley and Adrian Hubbard both put off the NFL for another season, and their return gives the Tide a pair of impact defenders at the middle level of their 3-4 defense.
With none of the seven Tide recruits that enrolled in school last month coming from the defensive side of the ball, the focus on defense will be developing some of the younger talent from the 2012 class.
What to Watch For on Special Teams
With reliable kicker Jeremy Shelley graduating, Tide fans will finally get their first look at ballyhooed 2012 recruit Adam Griffith—who is the odds-on favorite to succeed Shelley as the team’s place-kicker.
Long-distance kicker Cade Foster will challenge Griffith for the job.
Senior punter Cody Mandell returns to handle his position for the third consecutive season.
The competition amongst return men Christion Jones and Cyrus Jones (no relation)—which saw both players juggle time as kick returners and punt returners—should carry over into the spring.
The atmosphere inside Bryant-Denny Stadium should be a festive one as Alabama officially begins its quest to capture a three-peat.
There are a handful of intriguing subplots for the Tide entering the spring—with heralded talents like Henry and Howard getting their first introduction to the college level being chief among them.
Additionally, the race for the right to back up McCarron—with potentially six signal-callers battling it out for that position—could serve as a glimpse of the Tide’s future at the position in 2014 and beyond.
Considering the stable of talent that Saban has assembled in recent years, the A-Day game will serve as a showcase for the next wave of Tide players looking to emerge and become household names by the end of the season.