Alabama Football: Meet the Tide's New Starters for 2013
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In 2013, the majority of Alabama’s new starters have been heavy contributors as backups or are rising upperclassmen who have been groomed for larger roles.
One of the primary reasons that Alabama has been able to reload every year is because of the wealth of quality players that Nick Saban continues to lure to Tuscaloosa.
So, which players will Saban select to step into starting roles this fall?
Weight: 218 pounds
Position: Running Back
Player Replacing: Eddie Lacy
T.J. Yeldon, a 5-star running back who was a longtime commitment to in-state rival Auburn, flipped to the Tide a month before enrolling in Tuscaloosa.
Even though Saban has had standout running backs at Alabama before, Yeldon is the head coach's first rusher to top the 1,000-yard mark as a freshman.
With Eddie Lacy off to the NFL, Yeldon will now become the Tide’s featured back.
As Andrew Gribble of AL.com notes, one of Yeldon's goals is to be the best running back in school history.
While that may sound like a tall task, he is a special talent who has the ability to be the best rusher in the country.
Weight: 315 pounds
Position: Left Guard
Player Replacing: Chance Warmack
Arie Kouandjio was a 4-star prospect in the 2010 class who chose the Tide over USC, Miami and California.
After dealing with injuries throughout his career at Alabama, he is finally healthy and closing in on the left guard position vacated by Chance Warmack.
Kouandjio is in line to start next to his brother Cyrus, who is an All-American candidate for the Tide at left tackle.
According to Andrew Gribble of AL.com, Saban is pleased with Kouandjio’s progress and has even flirted with the idea of putting him at right tackle. Regardless of where he lines up, he has worked himself into being a player whom the Tide will count on this season.
Weight: 290 pounds
Player Replacing: Barrett Jones
Saban went into Big Ten territory to pluck 4-star offensive lineman Ryan Kelly, who chose Alabama over Florida, Florida State and Kentucky.
The graduation of Barrett Jones left a sizable void at center. But of all the linemen hoping to fill one of three vacancies on the offensive line, Kelly has been the safest bet to assume a starting role.
He played well enough as a reserve last season to merit his selection to the 2012 SEC All-Freshman team, per CBS Sports.
Additionally, as ESPN’s Alex Scarborough points out, Kelly earned valuable reps as the first-team center during Alabama’s bowl preparations when Jones was nursing a foot injury.
While it’s never easy to replace one of the best offensive linemen in school history, Kelly has been groomed for this role and is prepared for the challenge.
Weight: 315 pounds
Position: Right Tackle
Player Replacing: D.J. Fluker
One of several Peach State natives on the Tide roster, Austin Shepherd was a 3-star prospect who chose the Tide over Georgia Tech, Clemson and South Carolina.
Perhaps the tightest position battle has been at right tackle. Shepherd and JUCO transfer Leon Brown have been battling it out for the right to take over for the departed D.J. Fluker.
Shepherd is another player who played extensively as a reserve in 2012.
As Scarborough notes, senior right guard Anthony Steen expounded on the differences between Arie Kouandjio and Shepherd.
Shepherd’s strengths as a pass-blocker may be what ultimately gets him a spot in the Tide’s starting rotation up front.
Weight: 260 pounds
Position: Tight End
Player Replacing: Michael Williams
Brian Vogler was one of the nation’s top tight ends in the 2010 class, and he selected Alabama over Oklahoma, Florida State, LSU and Auburn.
Alabama has to replace the dependable Michael Williams at tight end, but Vogler appears ready to take over at the position.
Vogler has the physical toughness needed to excel as a blocker and is perhaps underrated as a receiving threat.
According to Trevor Hewett of BamaOnline (subscription required), Vogler has become the leader of the unit and has been impressive throughout fall camp.
Weight: 250 pounds
Player Replacing: Kelly Johnson
Jalston Fowler was a 4-star running back from Mobile who was one of the first commitments of the 2010 class.
After suffering a torn ACL early last season, he has recovered and switched positions this offseason from running back to H-back.
So far, the results have been promising.
According to Cliff Kirkpatrick of the Decatur Daily, Fowler snared three passes for 38 yards in the Tide’s first fall scrimmage, impressing Saban with his receiving ability.
Fowler is a versatile player who can excel as a runner, blocker and receiver. That unique skill set will help him carve out a significant role on a loaded Tide offense.
Weight: 290 pounds
Position: Defensive End
Player Replacing: Damion Square
Defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan was one of the top pass-rushers in the 2011 class. The 4-star prospect was once committed to fellow SEC power Florida before switching to Alabama late in the process.
As one of the Tide’s top defensive line reserves, he has flashed his talents in spurts over the last two seasons.
With the departure of Quinton Dial and Damion Square, Pagan will join returning starter Ed Stinson as the Tide’s defensive ends in the base 3-4 defense.
As Andrew Gribble of AL.com notes, Square is a big believer in his former protégé.
The 6’4”, 290-pound Pagan accumulated 23 tackles last season, including four tackles for loss.
Weight: 310 pounds
Position: Nose Guard
Player Replacing: Jesse Williams
Memphis native Brandon Ivory was a 3-star defensive tackle prospect in the 2010 class who chose Alabama over the hometown Tigers and Southern Miss.
The loss of nose guard Jesse Williams leaves a hole in the middle of Alabama’s defensive line.
However, Ivory racked up 22 tackles last season and stepped up in pivotal games like the SEC title matchup against Georgia when Williams went down with an injury.
Ivory may not be as physically imposing as Williams, but he is capable of being an effective plugger at nose guard.
Weight: 250 pounds
Position: Outside Linebacker
Player Replacing: Xzavier Dickson
While Landon Collins was the most high-profile recruit that Saban pulled out of Louisiana in 2012, quietly getting 4-star linebacker Denzel Devall out of the Pelican State was a coup for the Tide. Devall chose Alabama over LSU and Texas A&M.
While Alabama returns players with starting experience at all four linebacker positions, the competition in practice has still produced a notable battle at one of the outside linebacker spots.
After a standout freshman season, Devall is in line to share a spot or even unseat returning starter Xzavier Dickson, according to Don Kausler Jr. of AL.com.
Devall notched 18 tackles and a pair of sacks as a reserve last season, and he’s come on strong as a potential breakout candidate for the defense this fall.
Weight: 186 pounds
Player Replacing: Dee Milliner
Saban went into Steve Spurrier’s backyard in the Palmetto State to grab 4-star corner John Fulton, who was one of the nation’s top defensive backs in the 2010 class. Fulton chose Alabama over SEC powers South Carolina, Florida and LSU.
After seeing time as a reserve in his first three seasons at Alabama, Fulton is closing in on locking down the starting corner spot opposite Deion Belue.
Despite battling injuries throughout his career, he has flashed glimpses of his talent. His performance in last season’s loss to Texas A&M was the most notable example of his ability.
The 6’0”, 187-pound Fulton has been a standout in camp, according to Trevor Hewett of BamaOnline (subscription required).
If he can stay healthy and provide a steady presence at corner, it would go a long way toward alleviating one of Saban’s primary concerns this season.
Weight: 187 pounds
Player Replacing: Jeremy Shelley
Alabama has signed top-rated players at nearly every position, and Saban carried on that tradition by inking standout 3-star placekicker Adam Griffith, who was the nation’s top kicker in the 2012 class. Griffith chose the Tide over Georgia, LSU and Vanderbilt.
The graduation of kicker Jeremy Shelley has produced a battle to find his successor, with Griffith and senior Cade Foster vying for the job.
While Foster has some experience as the Tide’s long-range kicking specialist for the last two seasons, Griffith enters the mix after redshirting last season.
Saban has been tight-lipped about the battle between Foster and Griffith. However, as Michael Casagrande of the Ledger-Enquirer notes, Griffith excelled under pressure in high school. That experience should help him become the Tide’s answer at kicker sooner than later.