Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide are still sorting out their roster less than three weeks away from the season-opener against Virginia Tech.
Heading toward the midway point of fall practice, Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide are still in the development and experimentation phase of camp.
Establishing quality depth at key positions, a process that involves finding out which newcomers are ready to contribute, is the focus.
So, which players have stepped up to the challenge early, and which parts of the roster are still of concern to Saban and his staff?
Fowler is one of a handful of offensive players who is returning from a season-ending injury. The former running back has also moved into a new spot at H-back.
The early returns on Fowler’s health and his new position appear to be promising.
The 6’1”, 250-pound senior caught three passes for 38 yards in the Tide’s first scrimmage, according to Aaron Suttles of the Tuscaloosa News.
Fowler’s clean bill of health and his versatility give the Tide another dependable weapon for their offense.
One area where Saban has shuffled the deck is the offensive line, according to Andrew Gribble of AL.com.
The experiments included swapping a pair of projected starters in left guard Arie Kouandjio and right guard Austin Shepherd.
While the first-team unit still appears to be solid, Gribble notes that Saban is still searching for improvement from the backups in the trenches.
With the season less than three weeks away, offensive line coach Mario Cristobal’s biggest concerns are identifying which players are ready to contribute and solidifying the rotation.
Sophomore linebacker Denzel Devall occupied a spot on last week’s list of risers, and fellow 2012 class member Reggie Ragland has followed suit.
According to Trevor Hewett of BamaOnline (subscription required), the 6’2”, 259-pounder has impressed working as a backup to inside linebacker C.J. Mosley.
Ragland has added 14 pounds of muscle in the offseason and is making a strong case in camp to earn a significant role this fall.
The emergence of Reggie Ragland comes on the heels of Saban announcing a suspension for starting inside linebacker Trey DePriest, according to Andrew Gribble of AL.com.
As Gribble notes, Saban said DePriest, who finished second on the team with 59 tackles last season, could return as soon as next week.
However, missing a week of camp for violating team rules is not something to expect from a veteran heading into his junior season.
With plenty of young studs behind DePriest who are battling for an opportunity, his suspension opens the door for at least one of them to step up in his absence.
One of the biggest questions entering camp was which of the four freshmen running backs from the 2013 recruiting class would emerge and earn a spot in the rotation?
Thus far, Derrick Henry and Altee Tenpenny have drawn the most praise from coaches and teammates.
Saban praised Henry’s play after the Tide’s first scrimmage, according to Cliff Kirkpatrick of the Decatur Daily. Meanwhile, former running back and current H-back Jalston Fowler mentioned Tenpenny as someone who has stood out early in camp, according to Don Kausler Jr. of AL.com.
While there are still plenty of practices left until the season opener, Henry and Tenpenny appear to be on track to find the field this season.
After lighting up the Tide’s first scrimmage with four catches for 182 yards and three touchdowns, sophomore wideout Amari Cooper seemed to be over the foot issues that bothered him in the first week of camp.
However, a foot strain will keep him out of practice for a least a few days, according to Andrew Gribble of AL.com.
Another valuable contributor who has been limited is senior corner Deion Belue, who as Gribble notes is nursing a hamstring injury.
With both players representing the top returning contributors at their respective positions, it’s critical for the Tide to get them as close to 100 percent as possible leading up to the season opener.