SEC Spring Football Preview: Alabama Crimson Tide

2011 Record: 12-1 (National Champs)

Returning Starters: 12

Key Losses: Trent Richardson, Marquis Maze, Dont’a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw, Dre Kirkpatrick, Mark Barron

Breakdown:

The Alabama Crimson Tide lose a lot of NFL-caliber talent off Nick Saban’s third national championship team (second in Alabama.) Richardson, Hightower, Upshaw, Kirkpatrick, and Barron could all be potential first-round picks, but Alabama has recruited better than any team in the country and they will still be loaded in 2012.

This spring, the Crimson Tide expect to return 12 starters, four of which return on the offensive line. If backup tailback Eddie Lacy and former five-star tailback Demetrius Hart (who is coming off a torn ACL last summer) can stay healthy, the Tide’s running game should be the focal point of the offense once again. Quarterback A.J. McCarron returns and he’ll be relied upon to take on more of a leadership role this spring.

McCarron still won’t be required to shoulder the load if the running game continues to provide; however, in his second year as a starter, McCarron should be given more freedom to attack defenses vertically. McCarron’s development this spring is going to be critical for an offense that will simply have to be more explosive in 2012.

Defensively, there is going to be an adjustment, but that’s to be expected when you’re projecting to have seven players from your squad selected in the NFL Draft. Returning starters like Robert Lester, Jesse Williams, Dee Milliner, and Nico Johnson will have significantly more responsibilities beginning this spring, and reserves like Vinnie Sunseri (son of Tennessee defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri) will have to step into a starting role.

What to watch for:

It’d be a stretch to say that Alabama is thin at linebacker, but there is going to be a lot of competition at the position to see who winds up at the Jack spot vacated by Courtney Upshaw and who winds up filling the ILB position left by Dont’a Hightower. However, the Crimson Tide seem to produce linebackers like they are going out of style.

Another position battle to keep an eye on is the nose-guard spot. Josh Chapman hasn’t earned the praise of draft scouts like some of the other departed Bammers, but he played a critical role in the Alabama 3-4. Finding Chapman’s replacement will be a major priority this spring for Nick Saban and his staff.

Spring Game: April 14

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