Alabama Football: Crimson Tide Players Who Need to Make an Impact This Spring
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — When it comes to tying up loose ends from the previous season, it’s tough to top what the University of Alabama football team did this past week.
For the fourth time in seven years, it celebrated a national championship with a trip to the White House to be honored by President Barack Obama. The team has made so many visits that one has to wonder if the secret service has assigned Nick Saban a nickname (Obama got to choose his, “Renegade”).
“Coach, what took you so long?” the president joked. “It’s been three whole years since I last saw you.”
Although the season ended in January, it was the second time since then that former Alabama running back Derrick Henry got to spend some time with the president as they struck up a Heisman Trophy pose together at a National Prayer Breakfast last month.
"This is a kid who grew up running down dirt roads, and raised on his grandma’s oxtail stew,” said President Obama during the East Room ceremony, “and so he knew something about hardship, and was remembering that hardship in his prayer.
“And that’s the kind of grit that he played every game with. And that's the kind of determination that defines this entire team. Anybody who watched them knows it was not just a one-man wrecking crew.”
Alabama was not a one-man army in 2015, but as far as Saban’s concerned, that’s all in the past as the Crimson Tide will kick off spring practices in a week. The team will hold one on-field workout before spring break and then hit the meat of the schedule beginning March 21.
Here are a few players who need to make an impact.
Tony Brown, Defensive Back
As a recruit, Tony Brown was considered a consensus 5-star talent and the No. 2 cornerback in the nation, according to the 247Sports composite rankings, but despite his potential, he has yet to break through as hoped.
He started two games as a freshman in 2014, yet last season he was a reserve player who made his biggest impact on special teams.
Moreover, Alabama sent Brown home from the Cotton Bowl for violating team rules. He later apologized to the team and was welcomed back, and he did accompany the Crimson Tide on the White House trip.
With the departure of Cyrus Jones, the Crimson Tide again have an opening for a starting cornerback, although Brown might be better suited at free safety or as the extra defensive back in the nickel formation—the spot Saban calls "Star."
Regardless, the competition in the secondary figures to be intense. Minkah Fitzpatrick is coming off a Freshman All-American season, according to Sporting News, and Kendall Sheffield is ready to challenge for playing time after redshirting.
“He's one of those guys that's always up here trying to get better,” Jones said about Fitzpatrick last season. “He's very hungry and humble. The sky's the limit for him, man.”
Tim Williams/Rashaan Evans, Linebacker
Both players made significant contributions as pass-rushers in 2015, but they now need to prove that they can be every-down players as well. With Denzel Devall’s former spot open at strong-side linebacker, Tim Williams will likely get the first look this spring and be pushed by Rashaan Evans.
“Very sharp kid that’s picked it up as we’ve gone along,” former defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said during Alabama’s media day before the College Football Playoff National Championship Game. “A lot of our calls and stuff are conducive for him to go fast, come off the edge, create havoc.”
In 15 games last season, Williams had just 19 tackles, but 12.5 of them were for a loss including 10.5 sacks. Should he become an every-down player and be effective against the run, the linebacker could be a high draft choice this time next year.
Evans was credited with 10 tackles and four sacks.
Bo Scarbrough, Running Back
It’s more than a little unfair to call anyone the next Henry, especially after winning the Heisman, but with Bo Scarbrough listed as 6’2”, 240 pounds, it’s almost impossible not to make the comparison.
After being suspended the first four games of the 2015 season due to an eligibility issue, Scarbrough only had 18 carries for 104 yards, so he has nowhere near the same kind of experience Henry did when finally becoming a starter last year.
“He's done a very nice job,” Saban said about Scarbrough. “He had to overcome adversity after being injured in the spring where he was having a very good effective spring practice, so it's taken him a while to come back physically, but I think he's gotten more and more confident. It also affected his learning curve because of all the time that he missed.
“I also think he's gained a lot of confidence in not only how to do things but what to do and why it's important to do them a certain way.”
Regardless, the plan is for Scarbrough and Damien Harris to split reps and carries as a tandem. The player who develops more as a blocker and overall contributor may be the one who gets the starting job.
Charles Baldwin, Right Tackle
Saban didn’t mince words about Charles Baldwin during his press conference on national signing day.
“Charles Baldwin was probably at least the best junior college offensive tackle-type that we could find, which we thought we were a little short in tackle-types, especially guys that had experience,” he said. “We recruit junior college guys because we think he's going to be good enough to play, because they need to play. So then we need for him to play.
“He has a lot of athleticism to him as well, and can play with power.”
Although Alabama also has to replace three-year starting center Ryan Kelly, the right tackle spot is the spot on the offensive line to watch this spring. Other options include Korren Kirven, standout early enrollee Jonah Williams and maybe Ross Pierschbacher, who started at left guard as a redshirt freshman last season.
They’ll be vying to replace Dominick Jackson, a junior college transfer who wasn’t able to pin down a starting role until his second season with the Crimson Tide.
Cooper Bateman, Quarterback
The starting quarterback job is expected to be a three-player competition between Cooper Bateman, Blake Barnett and David Cornwell. If Bateman wants to win the job, he needs to stay ahead of the two younger players.
Of the three he’s the only one with playing experience at the collegiate level. He made a start last season before Jake Coker showed the command the coaches coveted.
Overall, Bateman completed 37 of 52 passes for 291 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions. His passer efficiency rating was 116.8.
Just don’t be surprised if the competition extends into the fall. None of the last three starting quarterbacks was able to secure the starting job in the spring.
“Sometimes that’s good because it creates a competitive atmosphere for however many guys are involved in the competition and the chance,” offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin said during a postseason press conference. “Most of the time it’s good to get it done early, but there are good sides to having it take longer, too.”
Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.