Biggest Personnel Losses Suffered by Alabama Football and Who Will Replace Them
The University of Alabama has been a factory for producing NFL talent since head coach Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa, and after the Crimson Tide won their 15th national title in January, that tradition continued in the 2013 NFL draft.
Nine Alabama players were selected in the draft, with several other players either agreeing to free-agent contracts or finding jobs that match their newly acquired degrees. Their absences will be felt in the locker room and on the field next season for Alabama, but the Crimson Tide must rebuild and reload like they have in the past.
Several positions are up for grabs with the departures of the former starters, and it will be up to the remaining and incoming players to fill them. However, Saban and Co. recruited well and have more-than-capable veterans on the 2013-14 roster.
Here we break down the biggest personnel losses that Alabama suffered this offseason and which players will step in to fill those voids.
Alabama quite possibly had the best offensive line in the entire country last season, but that strong unit is no more. Chance Warmack, D.J. Fluker and Barrett Jones are all on NFL teams now, leaving three gigantic holes along the offensive front.
The Crimson Tide are known for running the football, and their stellar offensive line play has been the foundation of that success. The success of quarterback A.J. McCarron could also be attributed to the strength of the hog mollies that keep defenders off of him.
Left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and right guard Anthony Steen are coming back, but there are still three positions to fill. It will be up to inexperienced players to rise to the occasion and continue the tradition of Alabama's offensive line.
Sophomore center Ryan Kelly will have to fill in for one of the most decorated players in college football history in former center Barrett Jones. Junior guard Arie Kouandjio, brother of Cyrus, will step in beside his brother and replace Warmack at left guard. And junior tackle Austin Shepherd will tackle the challenge of replacing mammoth right tackle Fluker, a small task for no player.
There's no question that it will take some time for this group to mesh, but with the talent and depth for the offensive line, the backfield should be well protected for the 2013-14 season.
Much like the offensive line, the defensive line saw its fair share of personnel losses after the BCS National Championship game. Jesse Williams, Quinton Dial and Damion Square are gone, taking with them their humongous frames that were so well known for clogging up the trenches for defensive coordinator Kirby Smart.
With the departure of these three players goes the valuable experience that veterans bring to a football team. That is hard to teach, and in the Southeastern Conference, experience is crucial if a team wants to win.
But the good thing for Alabama is it is returning several players with in-game experience from a season ago.
Players like Jeoffrey Pagan, Ed Stinson and Brandon Ivory contributed all year long in 2012 and could very well be the three starting linemen when the Crimson Tide face Virginia Tech in the first game of the 2013-14 season. And those three are not alone.
The defensive front is a deep group with plenty of players who can step in on any down. Dalvin Tomlinson, LaMichael Fanning and Darren Lake are just a few.
But the rich just get richer, and Alabama might just be the wealthiest of any team in college football. The Crimson Tide pulled in the No. 1 recruiting class of 2013, a class that is full of talented defensive linemen, according to ESPN.com.
Jonathan Allen, Dee Liner, Tim Williams, A'Shawn Robinson and Darius Paige make up the uber-talented group of freshmen that will be in Tuscaloosa for the fall, and something tells me it will be difficult for Smart to keep these youngsters off the field.
Alabama lost a lot, but it is gaining a lot too.
Aside from the offensive line, the secondary is biggest question mark heading into next season for Alabama. At times last season, the secondary was the team's weakest link, and now the Crimson Tide's shutdown corner, Dee Milliner, and secondary leader, Robert Lester, are no longer on campus.
Lester's absence is not as bad with Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix returning to head the secondary. Clinton-Dix progressed through the ranks last year to become a starter and key piece to a suffocating Alabama defense. He accounted for five interceptions in 2012 and solidified himself as an elite pro prospect for 2013.
Then there are players like Vinnie Sunseri, Landon Collins and Nick Perry. All four of Alabama's safeties made big plays in the Crimson Tide's A-Day game, with Clinton-Dix and Sunseri scoring defensive touchdowns.
But of the three players battling for the second safety position, Collins has the highest ceiling. He should work his way into the No. 2 slot before next season's end.
But replacing Milliner and finding a third corner to come in for the nickel package will be a lot tougher for the coaching staff. Senior Deion Belue will likely become the No. 1 guy, but his inconsistent play last year has not made the job his to lose. Rising sophomore Geno Smith played well in his true-freshman season and could overtake Belue for the top spot, but only time will tell.
Saban and his staff experimented this spring by moving wide receivers Christion and Cyrus Jones and running back Dee Hart over to the defensive side of the ball.
Although Christion will see most of his reps with the offense, he could be called upon to help out in the secondary if others start to falter. But the change for Cyrus seems more permanent. He played decently well in the A-Day game, and with the receiving corps being as deep as it is, he should see almost all of his snaps coming at corner.
The secondary has work to do and little error for mistakes. The group faces Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas in Week 1 and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel in its second contest of the season.