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Spring Practice Primer: Alabama

By Matt Smith
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Finding a left tackle to replace Cyrus Kouandjio will be one of the top priorities for Nick Saban this spring.

2013 Record: 11-2 (7-1 SEC); lost to Oklahoma in Sugar Bowl

Offensive Returning Starters: 7 (RB T.J. Yeldon, WR Christion Jones, WR Amari Cooper, TE Brian Vogler, LG Arie Kouandijo, C Ryan Kelly, RT Austin Shepherd)

Defensive Returning Starters: 6 (DE Jeoffrey Pagan, NG Brandon Ivory, ILB Trey DePriest, NB Jarrick Williams, CB Cyrus Jones, SS Landon Collins)

First Practice: Mar. 15

Spring Game: Apr. 19

Three Storylines

1. Waiting on Jake – The fact that Florida State backup quarterback Jake Coker was going to end up at Alabama was the world’s worst-kept secret this winter. The Crimson Tide lacked a surefire successor to A.J. McCarron, with senior Blake Sims and sophomore Alec Morris among a deep but to this point muddled group. Coker, who has great physical tools, impressed during his three years in Tallahassee, but was never going to surpass Jameis Winston. In February, Alabama announced Coker would join the Tide in the summer after graduating from Florida State.

Of course, that does Alabama little good during the spring. Sims and Morris will compete with redshirt freshmen Parker McLeod and Cooper Bateman to determine who, if any, can challenge Coker for the starting role once summer arrives. Morris’ style fits best in the lineage of Nick Saban quarterbacks at Alabama, but Sims has the most experience. This is more likely than not to become a moot point in August, but the Tide need to determine what will, at minimum, be Plan B for the 2014 season.

2. The Blind Side – Alabama’s left tackle position has been a revolving door of greatness under Saban. From Andre Smith to James Carpenter and Barrett Jones to Cyrus Kouandjio, there hasn’t been a more prolific group of left tackles in college football than that of the Crimson Tide. Kouandijo left early for the NFL, creating an open competition at the position. With a new quarterback this season, that only adds to the importance of finding the next great left tackle.

There’s no point in moving senior Austin Shepherd from the right side for one season, so it will likely be a first or second-year player starting on the left side when Alabama opens the season against West Virginia in the Georgia Dome. Freshman Cameron Robinson, the consensus top offensive line recruit in the country, enrolled in January and will compete immediately for playing time. Sophomore Grant Hill is in the mix as well, but may be best suited for the open guard position vacated by Anthony Steen.

3. No Mosley, Mo’ Problems? – C.J. Mosley was as productive as any Alabama defensive player in the Saban era. He made an immediate impact as a freshman with an interception return for a touchdown in a showdown against Florida and kept his motor running strong for four seasons in Tuscaloosa. The Tide now lose not only an All-American inside linebacker, but the heart and soul of their defense for the past two seasons.

Senior Trey DePriest should be the so-called quarterback of the defense, a role that requires as much before the snap as it does after. Sophomore Reuben Foster, who had only 12 tackles last season but was the top linebacker in the nation in the 2013 class, could fill the void. Another Auburn native, Rashaan Evans, won’t arrive until the summer, but has an opportunity to quickly climb a crowded linebacker depth chart. Four-year starters are rare these days, especially at Alabama. Finding an equivalent successor is even rarer.

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.