Alabama Spring Game: Potential Impact Players to Watch for Crimson Tide

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistApril 12, 2013

TUSCALOOSA, AL - SEPTEMBER 22:  Running back Kenyan Drake #17 of the Alabama Crimson Tide maneuvers around defensive back Keith Reaser #3 of the Florida Atlantic Owls on September 22, 2012 at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The Alabama Crimson Tide defeated the Florida Atlantic Owls 40-7.  (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)
Michael Chang/Getty Images

The Alabama Crimson Tide have become the most prolific college football program in the country because of the incredible depth in Tuscaloosa. At the spring game, fans are going to see exactly what it means for the next guy in line to step up.

You see, the Crimson Tide will lose some key players from last year's national championship team. But Nick Saban doesn't leave himself with an empty cupboard. Where NFL prospects leave, other NFL prospects usually fill in.

Really, spring games are a maddening activity. They provide fans with just enough football to remind us how much we miss it before teams go back into secrecy until fall when the real action starts.

Alas, here are three players that weren't starters last year that should have Tide fans pumped heading into next season.


Kenyan Drake, RB

Technically, T.J. Yeldon wasn't the starter last season and he could be included in this list, but the spring game isn't about stars we already know can produce. Yeldon ran for over 1,100 yards last season; he'll be alright this season.

What we don't know is who will get the carries behind him.

If we've learned anything about the Alabama program, it's that the backup running back usually looks like one of the top backs in the country. Yeldon looked like a stud last season behind Eddie Lacy, who looked like a stud behind Trent Richardson, who looked like a stud behind Mark Ingram.

The point is, someone will emerge as an elite back behind Yeldon. At this point, Drake is as good a candidate as anyone.

He ran for 281 yards on 42 carries with five touchdowns last season and will have the spring game to establish himself as the team's No. 2 back.


Austin Shepherd, RT

One of the biggest holes that the Crimson Tide need to replace this season is quite literally at right tackle. The 339-pound DJ Fluker is NFL-bound and replacing a player with his skill set is no easy task.

If anyone is prepared to step in and produce right away, it's Austin Shepherd.

The 6'5", 315-pound junior may not have the sheer size and strength of Fluker, but he saw action in nine of the Tide's games last season. That's the kind of experience in a back up that some teams would love to have.

As good as the Tide's group of running backs are, it was the offensive line that really made this the most dominant team in college football last season. If Shepherd can be anywhere near as dominant as Fluker was on the line of scrimmage, it'll be an explosive offense once again.

The spring game will be Shepherd's first chance to show he's ready to pick up where Fluker left off.


Brandon Ivory, NT

The Alabama front seven figures to be one of the best units in the country, but replacing nose tackle Jesse Williams will still be important.

Williams was a mammoth in the middle. His intensity and leadership were invaluable, as he was a primary reason the Tide were so efficient at stuffing the run in 2012.

Stepping into his role will be Ivory. At 6'4", 304 pounds, Ivory isn't nearly the physical specimen that Williams was, so he'll need to show that he can change the game with his explosiveness.

Ivory should give the defensive line a more athletic look, and it will be interesting to see how that manifests itself in the spring game. If he doesn't perform, sophomore Darren Lake could be looking to take his spot. At 6'3", 324 pounds, he's a more traditional nose tackle.

Ivory would appear to be in the driver's seat because of his experience, but this is a position worth keeping an eye on in the game.