Nick Saban will be watching a few key position battles closely when fall camp begins later this week.
When fall practice begins later this week, Alabama head coach Nick Saban will have his eyes fixed on a few positions that are still up for grabs.
Some spots will feature a continuation of battles that began in the spring, while others include young players who have made strides in the offseason and will try to use that momentum to earn playing time in the fall.
Which positions will feature the most heated competition in camp?
Favorites: Kenyan Drake, Sophomore
Derrick Henry, Freshman
Challengers: Tyren Jones, Freshman
Altee Tenpenny, Freshman
Alvin Kamara, Freshman
Alabama’s running back rotation may have a different look this season.
Sophomore T.J. Yeldon is the clear-cut option as the Tide’s featured back, but the competition for the backup role could feature as many as five backs fighting for carries.
Sophomore Kenyan Drake will try to fend off four decorated freshmen from the 2013 recruiting class.
Derrick Henry got a taste of college as an early enrollee, and that may give him a leg up on his classmates for the backup job. However, Alvin Kamara, Altee Tenpenny and Tyren Jones were all highly touted backs that will get their first crack at making an impression on the coaching staff.
Regardless, Alabama’s backfield-by-committee approach could expand to have several players shoulder the workload this season.
Favorite: Austin Shepherd, Junior
Challenger: Leon Brown, Junior
The biggest battle in the trenches features veteran backup Austin Shepherd and JUCO transfer Leon Brown competing for the right tackle job.
Shepherd exited spring practice with the upper hand, but Saban has a history of finding instant contributors from the JUCO ranks, and Brown will fight to add his name to that list.
This position figures to be one of the most intense battles of fall camp, and it will be among new offensive line coach Mario Cristobal’s chief concerns for his unit.
Favorite: Xzavier Dickson, Junior
Challenger: Denzel Devall, Sophomore
Alabama returns players with starting experience at all four linebacker positions, but that does not mean they're all set in stone.
Junior Xzavier Dickson manned the Jack spot last season, but as Don Kausler Jr. of AL.com noted, he saw some snaps at defensive end in the spring, and that experiment could continue in camp.
Even if he stays put, his backup a year ago, rising sophomore Denzel Devall, is pushing hard to earn the job outright.
Both players will have a role this season, but Devall is likely the one underclassman that is the biggest threat to unseat a veteran.
Favorite: John Fulton, Senior
Challengers: Geno Smith, Sophomore
Cyrus Jones, Sophomore
Senior corner and returning starter Deion Belue has one corner spot locked down, but the other spot appears to be a wide-open competition.
Sophomores Geno Smith and Cyrus Jones both gained extensive reps in the spring due to the absence of senior John Fulton, who was rehabbing an injured toe.
Fulton’s experience should help him make up ground quickly, but Smith and Jones could earn significant playing time opposite Belue if Fulton’s injury woes linger into the season.
Considering the lack of experienced depth at corner, the development of Jones, who played receiver as a freshman, is one of camp’s most intriguing subplots.
Favorite: Vinnie Sunseri, Junior
Challenger: Landon Collins, Sophomore
Similar to Devall, rising sophomore Landon Collins is a player who could prove to be difficult for Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart to leave off the field.
Junior Vinnie Sunseri is an experienced playmaker who is versatile enough to play down in the box in nickel and dime looks. His ability to contribute in more than one spot is another way that makes it convenient to get Collins into the lineup.
The rotation at safety is deep, and it’s likely both players will be on the field together in certain packages. However, the battle to claim the starting role opposite Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will rage on in camp.
Favorite: Adam Griffith, Freshman
Challenger: Cade Foster, Senior
With the graduation of short-range kicker Jeremy Shelley, veteran Cade Foster and redshirt freshman Adam Griffith will battle for the placekicking job.
Foster, who served as the Tide’s kicker on field goals of 45 yards or longer for the last two seasons, has had his struggles during his career. However, he’s been a reliable kickoff man and will enter his final season with a shot to win the kicking job outright.
Griffith enters the mix with sterling prep credentials, but the pressure will be on him to prove that he can earn his stripes on the college level.
Considering that Shelley was perfect on his 11 field-goal attempts last season, the winner of the duel between Foster and Griffith will have big shoes to fill.