Spring practice is an exciting time for football fans, and plays a crucial role in how a team develops and plays in the fall.
Spring in Tuscaloosa will see no shortage of competition. The QB battle between A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims remains among the most intriguing in the SEC. But it won't be the only competition in a team that, thanks to graduation and several early departures for the NFL, is looking at major overhauls.
Spring practice presents a great opportunity for players to impress coaches and earn playing time. Here are five that I think will step up their game.
It's finally Trent's time to shine.
Richardson has wowed with his power and agility, boasting an impressive 6.3 yards per carry last season. And without having to share the backfield with Heisman winner Mark Ingram, Richardson may now make a run at a Heisman of his own.
He will get a lot more carries this season, and will make the most of them. This spring, his main job will be to develop chemistry with 'Bama's new quarterback and work on his receiving.
Trent must become a bigger part of 'Bama's offense now, and I think he's ready. Of course, since Nick Saban likes to rotate at least two runners, Richardson will share carries with Eddie Lacy. Demetrius Hart, Jalston Fowler, and Demetrius Goode are also competing to be in the mix.
Hanks caught 32 passes for 456 yards last season, which isn't shabby, but he's capable of a lot more. 2011 is his last shot at college ball, and, now that superstar WR Julio Jones has moved to the NFL, it presents his best opportunity for success.
Hanks mainly works from the slot receiver position, although he is flexible and a viable deep threat. He should be a solid duo with the speedy Marquis Maze, and I think the two, along with young potential stars like DeAndrew White, Kevin Norwood, and Kenny Bell, will produce plenty of big plays.
One of Darius' most important jobs this spring will be to not only improve, but teach the plethora of young receivers the tips and tricks of the position.
Anyhow, I think Darius is ready to break out and have an impressive final season.
Demarcus Milliner will face plenty of challenges this spring after a rough start to his career last year. There is no doubting Milliner's potential; he was a five-star recruit out of high school and fought his way to the top last spring. However, he botched several big plays that hurt the team badly last year, and the competition is stiff from plenty of other talented young players.
Milliner's task this spring will be to beat off the competition and prove that last year's problems were just rookie mistakes. I have confidence in him.
Of course, the most-watched Crimson Tider this spring will be A.J. McCarron. A.J. will face off against Phillip Sims this spring in a QB duel that will likely end in the loser transferring. A.J. is the odds-on favorite, however, because he has been second string to the now graduated Greg McElroy for over a year.
One of my biggest concerns about A.J. is his size. He weighs around 190 pounds, so I hope he has been bulking up to survive the rigors of the SEC. Sims weighs in at about 214.
In past game experiences, A.J. has tossed 48 passes, completing 30 for 389 yards and 3 touchdowns.
In 2009, in the Crimson Tide's first SEC game, Dont'a took a low block to the knee that kept him on the bench for the rest of the season, and he watched his team win the national championship without him.
Last year, Hightower didn't appear to be at full speed, and lacked the production he had before the injury. Like the aforementioned Darius Hanks, 2011 presents Hightower's final opportunity to go out in style.
Ever since Rolando McClain—who was, simply put, a beast—left the Tide, it has been Hightower's duty to fill the void, something he has not done effectively to date. It is on his shoulders to be the quarterback of the defense, and make big plays in crucial moments.
Well, that wraps up my five Tide players to watch this spring. What are your thoughts? Who do you think will step up? Please leave your opinion in the comments section.