Alabama Football: Eight players to watch this spring

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 08: Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide talks to Mack Wilson
ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 08: Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide talks to Mack Wilson /

Looking for Alabama football players who can make a spring statement, here are eight names to consider. None of them are named Jalen, Tua or Najee.

There are surprises every spring for Alabama football. Purposely, those surprises mostly happen in practice and closed scrimmage sessions away from public view. We have identified eight players Alabama football fans can focus on this spring. each of them can make a big impact next fall. Avoiding the obvious choices, our list does not include Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa or Najee Harris.

Our group of players comes from three position areas: cornerback; defensive tackle and inside linebacker. These position groups will have new key players either starting or in the two-deep.

Cornerback – Trevon Diggs, Saivion Smith and Jared Mayden

Diggs and Smith are the expected replacements for Levi Wallace and Anthony Averett. Both will have to win a starting role this spring and then try to hold onto it in fall camp. If either does not measure up or if Smith goes to safety, Jared Mayden has the best chance to step in as a starter.

Patrick Surtain Jr. will enroll in the summer. The former 5-Star, No. 1 rated CB in the nation cannot be ruled out as a 2018 starter.

Nose Tackle – Phidarian Mathis, Johnny Dwight and Stephon Wynn

The best case scenario is all three of these guys becoming part of the Tide’s 2018 defensive line, regular rotation. If any of these guys can become the next Da’Ron Payne, it will be Mathis. Insiders report his scout team performance last fall was impressive.

Johnny Dwight is a redshirt senior who saw limited action last season. He impressed last spring, even winning (along with Payne) the spring camp Billy Neighbors Defensive Lineman award. The Tide is short on interior defensive lineman so a regular contribution from Dwight would be a big boost.

Early enrollee Stephon Wynn is a defensive end recruit who is expected to play inside. It is not easy for a freshman to break into the two-deep on the d-line. Most of them lack sufficient size and bulk. Wynn may be an exception.

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Inside Linebacker – Vandarius Cowan and Markail Benton

Alabama football is loaded with linebacker talent, but most of them are outside linebackers. Capable backups for Dylan Moses and Mack Wilson must be identified and prepared to step in. Keith Holcombe will fill one of those second team slots unless he chooses baseball full-time. The other slot is wide open.

Cowan played little last season. His redshirt was not pulled until October. Physically Cowan is ready for a key role. Mentally he may not be ready. There are persistent insider rumors Cowan is at best in Saban’s doghouse, and perhaps worse.

Benton was redshirted last season and he could earn a key role. Like the starters and Cowan, Benton has the tools to defend the run and the pass.

There are, of course, other players worthy of close attention. A new offensive line starter must be determined. It is hard to see how Alex Leatherwood and Jedrick Wills can be kept off the field. Brian Robinson may well show he deserves snaps as much as Josh Jacobs. However they are ranked, there will be little or no dropoff from Damien Harris and Najee Harris to Jacobs and Robinson.

Next: 'Never too Early' 2018 offense depth chart

Jobs can be won and lost in the spring. The 15 spring sessions and the first two weeks of fall camp determine who gets the most practice reps leading up to the season.