Alabama Spring Practice – Beginning to Spring Break – What to Know
By: Larry Burton
Spring practice – phase one is in the books. Athletes have gone from helmets and shorts to the beginning of pads and full speed drills. And now they’re off for a week of spring break like all the other college students on campus.
So what has this first round shown us so far? What do you really need to know?
Well, the heads behind the face masks may change at Alabama, but some things never do. Saban has a habit of shifting around some players to see if they could be used in other places than the position they’re used to. Sometimes these experiments pay off, sometimes not, but it usually pays off in giving players a wider view of football in general and getting some bodies ready should the injury bug bite hard.
So far, ArDarius Stewart worked with the safeties before moving back with the receivers. Though only 6’0”, Stewart is a solidly built 195 pound athlete with good ball skills, so that was certainly worth a look. Stewart has actually had a bit of coaching experience with defensive backs in working with his younger brother who’s still at Stewart’s alma mater, Fultondale High School, become a better athlete and D back.
With the Tide down three safeties since their last practice for the Sugar Bowl, Vinnie Sunseri and Ha Ha Clinton Dix, both were starters, as well as Jai Miller who left the team, Saban was wise to look for “insurance policies” to go along with the new untested faces who are vying for back up spots.
The biggest area of concern on offense is the offensive line where Alabama replaces two players who’ll be drafted in the NFL and a valued center who while a backup, played well as a starter when starting center Ryan Kelly went down with injury last season.
The concern isn’t that there isn’t a talent pool stocked with sufficient muscle and size, but people ready to take the field with knowledge not only of the system and plays, but how to mesh with the other starters and communicate on the fly. Last season, the Alabama offensive line had problems early on with communication issues and plays that were quickly changed at the line of scrimmage.
Last season Ryan Kelly was perhaps the centerpiece of communication problem and he seems to be the main player on the line season who is working hard to bring the other “newbies” up to speed so that they avoid that problem this season.
Which leads us to the to the last thing we’ve learned so far in phase one of spring drills. Who are this year’s leaders going to be? Or who is emerging?
As previously stated, Ryan Kelly seems to be vocal leader so far on offense and with CJ Mosely gone, the big concern was who would fill the leadership vacuum. As they had hoped someone is stepping up and that person early on seems to be Trey DePriest. In the past DePriest was content let his play do the talking while others set the defense or vocally led the troops. Now he has appeared to be someone who is stepping up into that leadership role.
In the defensive backfield, Landon Collins who started last season as a backup himself, may be called upon to be that leader and he is showing signs that he may just do that.
Though these practices haven’t been exciting or groundbreaking in any sense so far, they have laid the groundwork for leadership roles. But things won’t be near fully in place until fall practice when Jacob Coker arrives to formerly start fall practice. But you can and should expect the defense to be firmly set and in place with only the battle for backups remaining.
After Coker’s arrival, the battle for the backup quarterback begins as it would take an unforeseen miracle for someone overtake the man who had to have been all but promised the starting job in order to transfer.
For Alabama fans and staff alike, the most interesting aspect of round two of spring practice leading up to the A Day Game will how will the running back order line up? That will be worth watching and every fan will hang on every stat that comes from practice and all will have their own opinion after A Day game of who should be in what order and the only thing that you can be sure of is that everyone won’t agree. Such may be the results of other position battles, but that’s the fun of spring practice.
Larry is an award winning writer whose work has appeared in almost every college football venue. Now he primarily writes for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LBSportswriter