Jan 2, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back Derrick Henry (27) against the Oklahoma Sooners during the second half of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Oklahoma defeated Alabama 45-31. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama Heads into Spring Practices With Questions

It’s March, so that means Alabama Crimson Tide fans’ “football withdrawals” will get a small intermission as spring practices kick start this Saturday leading to the April 19th A-Day Game.

The Tide rolls towards practice this weekend with a lot of questions. Fans and critics alike are wondering how Nick Saban and his boys in Crimson will bounce back from such a disappointing end to 2013. Let’s tackle some of those questions right now.

Who will replace AJ McCarron?

The most obvious question heading into 2014 is who will replace all-time leading passer at Alabama, and soon-to-be NFL quarterback AJ McCarron?

Currently Alabama has five scholarship quarterbacks on campus that will take part in spring practices. Those include Blake Sims (Sr.), Alec Morris (So.), Cooper Bateman (So.), Parker McLeod (So.), and David Cornwell (Fr.). Sims is the only player on the roster to have thrown a pass in a college game and was McCarron’s primary backup the last two years. Cornwell, meanwhile, is the incoming true freshman that has been heralded coming out of high school.

In the fall Florida State transfer Jacob Coker will be joining the team and is likely the favorite to be named the starter right off the bat. This spring could be vital to all of the other quarterbacks on the Tide’s roster. If Blake Sims is going to take over at QB, the spring is where he needs to jumpstart that transition. The same can be said for any of the others; an impression needs to be made on new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin immediately.

How will the running back situation shake out?

T.J. Yeldon is the unquestioned leader among the Alabama running backs. Coming off of two consecutive 1,000 yard rushing seasons, he is poised to become the first Alabama player to record three straight 1,000 yard years.

Behind him things will be very interesting in 2014. Kenyan Drake was Yeldon’s primary backup and got a lot of touches in 2014, until the end of the year, which saw freshman Derrick Henry explode in the Sugar Bowl. Henry is far too good to keep off the field and it seems that he is picking up the blocking/blitz pickup aspect of the game, which could mean that he and Yeldon share the bulk of the load in 2014. Kenyan Drake, as well as Altee Tenpenny, Tyren Jones and Jalston Fowler will look to make an impression on Kiffin.

How different will the Alabama offense be?

It’s unlikely that will we see drastic changes in the Alabama offense, but there are some subtle things that we might be able to pick up. Kiffin and Saban have been rumored to be interested in using more two tight end sets, and a more traditional I-formation with a fullback rather than the h-back role.

If the h-back is done away with, it would likely mean we would see Fowler move full time to fullback. We may also see big tight ends like Cory McCarron or Harrison Jones get a look at fullback as well. O.J. Howard and Brian Vogler are likely to remain the top two tight ends, but it will be interesting to see how Kiffin exploits the athletic ability of Howard in his offense, possibly using him in a way that NFL teams use athletic tight ends like Vernon Davis or Jimmy Graham.

Filling in holes on the defense

Yet again Nick Saban and Kirby Smart will be looking to plug glaring holes after being depleted by the NFL Draft this year. Free safety HaHa Clinton-Dix, strong safety Vinnie Sunseri, defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan, and linebacker Adrian Hubbard all bolted early for the draft, while linebacker C.J. Mosley, defensive end Ed Stinson, and cornerback Deion Belue graduated in 2013.

Brandon Ivory remains in the middle of the defensive line, but incoming JUCO transfer Jarran Reed will likely get some opportunities in the spring to show if he can make an immediate impact at the nose. Sophomore A’Shawn Robinson can almost be penciled in at one defensive end position, while most felt that Reed’s fellow JUCO transfer D.J. Pettway would be opposite Robinson on the other side of the line. But there have been rumblings that Pettway may just start off at linebacker. If that’s the case, we could see Xzavier Dickson or Denzell Devall permanently move from jack linebacker to defensive end, or sophomore Jonathan Allen could jump up and take that spot.

Replacing Mosley will be no small feat, and that will fall to returning senior Trey DePriest, who most certainly has the ability to be that guy. Rounding out the other linebacker spots will be interesting to say the least. Devall will likely take one outside spot while we could see Dillon Lee, Tim Williams, and Ryan Anderson battle for the other outside spot. Joining DePriest on the inside will either be Reuben Foster, Reggie Ragland, or possibly even incoming freshman Shaun Dion-Hamilton.

The Alabama defensive backs struggled at times in 2013, but many young players got much-needed experience in the process. Bradley Sylve, Maurice Smith, Cyrus Jones and Eddie Jackson all received starts in 2013. Jackson and Jones seemed to be the most improved as the season progressed and will likely be the odds-on favorites to start off as the top two in the rotation in the spring. Smith, Sylve, and incoming freshman Tony Brown will certainly be nipping at their heels.

Landon Collins will unquestionably be called upon as the leader in this young secondary as the most experienced among the group. Joining him at safety will likely be Geno Smith and Nick Perry. It’s going to be interesting to see how much redshirt freshman Jai Miller has improved over the off season, and whether the 6-foot-3, 213-pound safety can get on the field in 2014.

These are just some of the questions that will be asked in the spring among others as 2014 looks to be one of the more intriguing seasons Nick Saban has had at Alabama in recent years. Spring practices start Saturday afternoon, and Saban and Co. will begin working on the answers.

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