With last Saturday representing the beginning of spring practice, preparations for the 2014 season are officially underway for Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide.
Plenty of interesting nuggets came out of the first week of practices, with a few unexpected departures and a quarterback derby taking center stage in early spring.
News of the Week
As Andrew Gribble of AL.com details, center Chad Lindsay, tight end Harrison Jones and safety Jai Miller were not listed on the Tide roster handed to media members before the first practice began.
Lindsay and Jones have both graduated and “decided not to come back and play,” according to Saban.
As for Miller, Saban said he is choosing to “focus on academics.”
On the field, the biggest theme of the first week has been to rid the program of any signs of complacency and get back to the essence of Saban’s famed process—which means getting the entire team to buy in from the outset of spring ball.
Saban is already warning his club about the entitlement issues that marred the 2013 season, according to Marq Burnett of the Anniston Star.
“I think that immature people and immature players sort of think that life's going to give into their demands,” Saban said. “Mature people know that I have to give into life's demands. If you really want to advance in this world, you've got to kind of do what you need to do to be successful, and most of the time that gets defined by somebody else.”
One area Saban is looking to emphasize this spring is finding new leaders to replace veterans such as AJ McCarron and C.J. Mosley.
As Marc Torrence of BamaOnline notes, one player who is ready assume a bigger leadership role this season is senior linebacker Trey DePriest.
“I’m just blessed to have a lot of experience,” DePriest said. “I’ve played for awhile. So I’m just trying to help out where I can.”
Update on Position Battles
A few units in the Tide spotlight this spring are the battles along the offensive line quarterback and in the secondary.
Mario Cristobal will be tasked with filling two vacancies in his unit, in addition to finding the best combination of talent and cohesiveness among his top five players.
Monday, Torrence reported (subscription required) that the first team offensive line from left to right appeared to be Leon Brown, Arie Kouandjio, Ryan Kelly, Alphonse Taylor and Austin Shepherd—with Grant Hill and Isaac Luatua among the notable players getting reps on the second unit.
At quarterback, the order for the contenders in the derby was Blake Sims, Alec Morris, Cooper Bateman and Parker McLeod, with freshman David Cornwell throwing passes to tight ends, according to Torrence.
While the competition is simply a prelude to fall camp—when Saban and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will get their first look at touted Florida State transfer Jacob Coker—spring is about developing each of the five passers currently on campus.
"I think all of you know that the quarterback competition this spring is going to be something that a lot of people are going to get a lot of opportunity at," Saban said to the Associated Press (via ESPN). "Jacob is not going to be here in the spring, but he's certainly going to get an opportunity when he gets here as well.”
In the secondary, Burnett reports that junior Cyrus Jones and sophomore Eddie Jackson have been working with the first-team at corner—with true freshman Tony Brown among those pushing for a spot in the rotation.
Lane Kiffin Watch
The debut of Kiffin in Tuscaloosa is another storyline that adds a layer of intrigue for Alabama this summer.
Although he’s only been on campus since January, Kiffin has already impressed star junior wideout Amari Cooper who billed Kiffin’s offense as “player-friendly”, according to Michael Casagrande of AL.com.
"Pretty cool guy. Pretty laid back guy," Cooper said when describing the new architect of the Tide’s offense. "He pays attention to everything, every little thing. I noticed that about him when we were practicing for the bowl game.”
What to Look Forward to Next Week
The first week of spring practices is usually a time for players to acclimate themselves to the grinding routine that is typical at a powerhouse school such as Alabama.
As the team prepares for and hold scrimmages, the picture will become more clear as to which players are taking advantage of the opportunity to showcase their growth and improvement since last season.