Alabama Football: 6 Players with the Most to Gain in Spring Practices
Just less than two weeks from now, on March 16, the Alabama Crimson Tide will begin its 2013 spring practices.
Spring camp is where it all begins. The best way to win a starting job in the fall is to already have one's hands wrapped around it coming out of spring.
As the Tide sets its sights on a third consecutive BCS national championship, there are vacancies that need to be filled due to the departure of some key players from a year ago.
It is because of these openings in the depth chart that this spring camp will be the most important month of the year for some of Alabama's youngsters.
Here are six Tide players that have the world to gain in the upcoming camp.
Rising sophomore Landon Collins came to Alabama with lofty expectations and plans to become one of the next stars of the Tide secondary.
He played primarily on special teams a year ago, but did get some time in the backfield in a reserve role. With the losses of Dee Milliner and Robert Lester, Collins will be looking to earn a starting role for the Tide in 2013.
He was impressive a year ago as a special teams sniper, often the first one to get downfield, and finished the season with 17 tackles.
To make this step, though, Collins will have to unseat at least one of the Tide's more experienced players like Vinnie Sunseri, John Fulton, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Deion Belue.
He no doubt has the talent to do so and coach Nick Saban will not hesitate to give him a job if he properly earns it. Nonetheless, Collins will have his work cut out for him.
If he succeeds, he will likely become a household name in 2013.
Adrian Hubbard started every game for the Tide a year ago in the "Sam" linebacker role. He finished the season with 41 tackles and will be the Tide's fourth-highest returning tackler this fall.
At an impressive 6'6", 248 lbs., Hubbard has both the size and speed to join the long list of superstar linebackers to play for the Tide in recent years.
With the departure of Nico Johnson, Hubbard will be looking to work his way closer to being the next director of the Alabama defense. He will join C.J. Mosley as the leaders of the Alabama linebacking corps and all eyes will be upon him this spring.
Any unforeseen setbacks can seriously damage Hubbard's progression into this role as Alabama is loaded with endless depth and a full supply of players ready to step in if he fails to deliver.
That said, even the smallest failure on Hubbard's part would be a major surprise as nothing he has done in his two years with the Tide has proven that he is anything less than a leader.
Jeoffrey Pagan came off the bench for the Tide a year ago, accounting for 22 tackles and 1.5 sacks on the defensive line.
Pagan worked his way into more and more playing time as the 2012 season evolved and could be one of the top newcomers in the starting rotation.
The defensive end will surely land a starting job this season, trying to fill one of the voids left by Damion Square and Quinton Dial.
Although he is not as big as some of his predecessors, Pagan could bring the Tide the consistent pass rush that they lacked a year ago. By the end of April, we will likely know if this is true.
The biggest question surrounding Pagan is how much of a star he will become rather than if he will or will not become one at all.
Replacing the legendary Barrett Jones is a task that would not be easy for anyone. At Alabama, center Ryan Kelly will be the first to try.
Kelly earned All-SEC Freshman honors a year ago as a backup to Jones and surely benefited from working behind the great one.
This season, Kelly will go into spring camp as one of three new starters on the Alabama offensive line. As important as the O-line is to the Tide offense, Kelly will have to pick up the pace quickly.
If he can do so, look for Kelly to join Anthony Steen and Cyrus Kouandjio as one of the leaders of the front line.
Most importantly, Kelly will have to work very closely with quarterback AJ McCarron as the two absolutely must be on the same page when the season starts in fall.
Running back Derrick Henry comes to Alabama as one of the most sought after high school ball-carriers in the nation from a year ago.
He has already enrolled at Alabama and will be present when spring practice begins. His goal will be to earn playing time as a true freshman for the Tide.
The problem Henry faces is that Alabama has more star running backs in its stable than some entire conferences.
T.J. Yeldon will surely be the feature back. This leaves Henry the task of outplaying returnees Dee Hart, Jalston Fowler and Kenyan Drake for whatever carries are left for the picking.
If Henry can catch on fast, he may emerge from spring practice ready to fill the role that Yeldon had a year ago and terrorize SEC defenses as a true freshman.
In 2012, Jeremy Shelley handled the majority of the place-kicking duties for Alabama. Now that he is gone, rising sophomore Adam Griffith will likely be the one to replace him.
Griffith was one of the highest rated kickers of the 2011 class. As a high school junior in 2010, Griffith placed 43 of 56 kickoffs in the end zone and his longest career field goal in high school was from 52 yards out.
A year ago, Shelley was perfect for the entire season on both field goals and extra points. Griffith will have to try to match that as he competes with Cade Foster for the kicking job.
Kickers do not often get much in the way of media coverage until they make a big mistake, but be assured that Griffith will have much to gain this spring and the coaching staff will be watching him closely.