Alabama Football: Position-by-Position Fall Practice Preview
USA TODAY Sports
With a third consecutive national title in its sights, Alabama will begin preparations for the 2013 season when fall camp begins early next month.
Once again, Nick Saban will field one of the country’s most talented rosters, headlined by All-American candidates such as quarterback A.J. McCarron, receiver Amari Cooper, running back T.J. Yeldon and linebacker C.J. Mosley.
How does the roster stack up position-by-position heading into fall camp?
Projected Starter: AJ McCarron, Senior
Impact Newcomer: Alec Morris, Freshman
Biggest Camp Storyline: The backup QB race
Alabama is a school that thrives on competition in practice, but there are no doubts about the quarterback position with McCarron entering his third season as the Tide’s starter.
The real battle is identifying his backup. Junior Blake Sims, redshirt freshman Alec Morris and true freshmen Cooper Bateman and Parker McLeod are competing for the job and a chance to potentially succeed McCarron next year.
While Sims is the only other quarterback aside from McCarron to take a snap in a college game, Morris has an impressive build (6’3”, 230 pounds) and flashed a big arm in the spring.
Bateman and McLeod both enrolled early in January, but both appear to have work to do in order to be ready to compete on the college level.
Projected Starter: T.J. Yeldon, Sophomore
Impact Newcomer: Derrick Henry, Freshman
Biggest Camp Storyline: Which true freshmen running backs will crack the rotation?
Yeldon ascends to the feature back role with the departure of Eddie Lacy. After rushing for 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, the rising sophomore is already a proven commodity. With his workload likely increasing, he could become a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate.
Sophomore Kenyan Drake will try to fend off four talented true freshmen from the Tide’s banner 2013 class. Headliner Derrick Henry, the only one of the newcomers to enroll early, turned heads before a leg injury cut short his spring.
Altee Tenpenny, Tyren Jones and Alvin Kamara will get their first chance to make an impression when camp begins, and each player can add a different dimension to an already loaded backfield.
Senior Jalston Fowler, who could also land at H-back, is another proven option that could contribute in the backfield.
Although this unit is filled with underclassmen, there’s more than enough talent to ensure that Alabama’s running game will maintain its place as one of the nation’s best.
(X) Amari Cooper, Sophomore
(Z) Kenny Bell, Senior
(H) Christion Jones, Junior
Impact Newcomer: Chris Black, Freshman
Biggest Camp Storyline: Which young receiver will step up and challenge for a starting role?
This unit was perceived as a weakness entering the 2012 season. However, one year later, the Tide’s group of pass-catchers is one of the strongest segments on the roster.
Sophomore Amari Cooper is one of the nation’s premier wideouts, but he will have plenty of help from experienced veterans such as Kenny Bell, Kevin Norwood, DeAndrew White and Christion Jones.
Additionally, talented freshmen Chris Black, Raheem Falkins and Robert Foster are capable of pushing for a spot in the rotation.
In particular, Black is an explosive receiver who is versatile enough to make plays in the slot or on the outside.
This group possesses enough talent and depth to be one of the nation’s best pass-catching units.
(TE) Brian Vogler, Junior
(H-Back) Jalston Fowler, Senior
Impact Newcomer: O.J. Howard, Freshman
Biggest Camp Storyline: Can Howard earn a starting nod?
With the graduation of starters Michael Williams and Kelly Johnson, the tight end and H-back spots are undergoing a bit of a makeover.
Veteran Brian Vogler is a big-bodied junior (6’7”, 260 pounds) who fits the traditional mold of being a reliable blocker in the run game, but he’s also a capable threat as a receiver.
The H-back spot is a bit of a mystery, with converted running back Jalston Fowler representing an interesting option. Fowler, who tore his ACL last September, is a versatile and skilled performer who can handle the blocking and pass-catching responsibilities of the position.
However, 5-star true freshman O.J. Howard could end up as the starter in this spot by season’s end.
Howard, who enrolled early and has drawn praise from McCarron over the summer, brings an added dimension to the passing game that Alabama hasn’t had during Saban’s tenure at the Capstone (h/t Don Kausler Jr., AL.com).
(LT) Cyrus Kouandjio, Junior
(LG) Arie Kouandjio, Junior
(C) Ryan Kelly, Sophomore
(RG) Anthony Steen, Senior
(RT) Austin Shepherd, Junior
Impact Newcomer: Leon Brown, Junior
Biggest Camp Storyline: Will Shepherd and Arie Kouandjio hold onto their spots?
Considering the heavy turnover on the offensive line, it’s a testament to the Tide’s mettle in the trenches that returning starters Anthony Steen and Cyrus Kouandjio were tabbed as preseason first-team All-SEC selections (h/t secdigitalnetwork.com).
Center Ryan Kelly has been groomed to succeed Barrett Jones at center, and juniors Arie Kouandjio and Austin Shepherd emerged from spring as the front-runners to win vacant jobs at left guard and right tackle, respectively.
Guard Chad Lindsay, who could also fight for time at center, and tackle Leon Brown will try to re-enter the picture as potential starters.
While the line may not reach the standards set by last season’s unit, new offensive line coach Mario Cristobal still has enough talent to mold this unit into one of the SEC’s best.
(DE) Jeoffrey Pagan, Junior
(DT) Brandon Ivory, Junior
(DE) Ed Stinson, Senior
Impact Newcomer: Dalvin Tomlinson, DE, Freshman
Biggest Camp Storyline: How will defensive end rotation shake out?
Alabama will have to replace a trio of contributors on its defensive line, including nose tackle Jesse Williams.
Junior Brandon Ivory played heavy minutes down the stretch last season, and he provides a wide body who can serve as a capable plugger in the middle of the Tide’s three-man front. Sophomore Darren Lake is another rising nose guard with the potential to spell Ivory. Freshmen Korren Kirven and A’Shawn Robinson could also enter the picture at nose.
Senior defensive end Ed Stinson is the group’s only returning starter, and he will provide a veteran anchor to a unit in transition. Junior end Jeoffrey Pagan is projected to land in the starting spot opposite Stinson, but watch out for talented redshirt freshman Dalvin Tomlinson to push for playing time in camp.
Junior starting outside linebacker Xzavier Dickson took some snaps at defensive end in the spring, so it will be worth monitoring whether or not that experiment continues in camp.
Other options that could make an impact on the defensive line are sophomore LaMichael Fanning and freshmen Dee Liner and Darius Paige.
(SAM OLB) Adrian Hubbard, Junior
(MIKE ILB) Trey DePriest, Junior
(WILL ILB) C.J. Mosley, Senior
(JACK OLB) Xzavier Dickson, Junior
Impact Newcomer: Jonathan Allen, Freshman
Biggest Camp Storyline: Can Jonathan Allen and/or Reuben Foster work through a crowded depth chart to earn a spot in the rotation?
The Tide return starters at all four linebacker positions, but there’s a solid group of second-year players and impact freshmen that will try to flash enough in camp to earn a spot in the rotation.
The leader of the unit is Mosley, who is one of the best linebackers in the country. Hubbard, Dickson and DePriest all were solid in their first year as starters in 2012, but each is looking to become more consistently dominant after showing flashes a year ago.
Second-year talents such as Denzel Devall, Dillon Lee, Reggie Ragland and Ryan Anderson are all former monster recruits that Saban and his staff are anxious to see when the pads come on.
In particular, Devall could become a fixture at Dickson’s JACK spot if the latter’s experiment at defensive end continues.
Add incoming 5-star recruits Jonathan Allen and Reuben Foster to the mix, and the linebacker segment should feature some of the most intense battles for playing time.
From top to bottom, Alabama has the deepest and most talented collection of linebackers in the nation.
John Fulton, Senior
Deion Belue, Senior
(Nickel) Geno Smith, Sophomore
Impact Newcomer: Cyrus Jones, Sophomore
Biggest Camp Storyline: Can Alabama build quality depth at corner?
The top three corners—seniors John Fulton and Deion Belue and sophomore Geno Smith—appear to have separated themselves from the pack.
Belue had a strong spring and looks vastly improved from a junior season that saw him struggle at times. Fulton’s main obstacle to this point in his career has been staying healthy, with a toe injury keeping out during the spring. Smith looked strong at the end of this season, and he has continued his development in the offseason.
Saban made headlines in the spring by moving running back Dee Hart and receiver Cyrus Jones to corner. Jones has made a quicker transition, and his long-term future appears to be bright on defense.
Sophomores Jabriel Washington and Bradley Sylve will be pressed by incoming freshmen Maurice Smith, Jonathan Cook and Eddie Jackson in an effort to climb up the depth chart.
Of that group, Maurice Smith—who was the Tide’s highest-rated signee at the position—is a player to keep an eye on.
Filling out the back end of the corner rotation will be one of fall camp’s biggest storylines.
Vinnie Sunseri, Junior
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Junior
Impact Newcomer: Landon Collins, Sophomore
Biggest Camp Storyline: Can Collins unseat Sunseri for starting nod?
While the situation at corner remains unsettled, the safety position is stocked with proven playmakers, veteran depth and promising young talent.
Juniors Vinnie Sunseri and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will form one of the country’s top tandems, with Clinton-Dix potentially in the discussion as an All-American type performer.
Seniors Nick Perry and Jarrick Williams are dependable veterans who have plenty of experience in Saban’s complex schemes.
However, sophomore Landon Collins is a former 5-star recruit who had a monster spring and could be on the verge of a breakout campaign.
True freshman Anthony Averett will enter the mix, but he could have an uphill battle to find his way onto the field considering the logjam of talent and experience ahead of him.
Perhaps one of the biggest subplots for this unit will be if the staff decides to experiment with getting Collins, Clinton-Dix and Sunseri onto the field at the same time.
(PK) Adam Griffith, Freshman
(KO) Cade Foster, Senior
(H) AJ McCarron, Senior
(P) Cody Mandell, Senior
(SN) M.K. Taylor, Senior
(PR) Christion Jones, Junior
(KR) Christion Jones, Junior
Cyrus Jones, Sophomore
Impact Newcomer: Adam Griffith, Freshman
Biggest Camp Storyline: Will Griffith win the kicking job outright?
The most notable addition to the Tide’s special teams unit is redshirt freshman Adam Griffith.
With the graduation of Jeremy Shelley, Griffith will battle returning long-range kicker Cade Foster for the placekicking job.
Senior Cody Mandell, who averaged more than 44 yards per punt in 2012, is a preseason second-team All-SEC selection.
The trio of Christion Jones, Cyrus Jones and Dee Hart all return and should continue to share the punt and kick return duties.
McCarron returns as the team’s holder, but a new long-snapper must be found. Senior M.K. Taylor and freshman Cole Mazza will duel for the job.
Saban has used different kickers to handle short and long-range kicks in recent years, but Griffith’s quest to win the placekicking job outright will be a battle worth watching.