Alabama Football: 5 Spring Practice Positional Battles To Watch

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Alabama Spring Practice Positional Battles

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Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The start of the 2014 college football season is inching closer and closer. In about six more months the first games will kick off to start another team’s campaign for a national championship. One team that is poised to contend, for sure, is the Alabama Crimson Tide.

The Tide are coming off of an impressive season that ended on a sour note. They were almost able to go wire-to-wire as the No. 1 team in the land before losing to Auburn in their annual Iron Bowl matchup. After that, they were taken out by the Oklahoma Sooners in the Sugar Bowl.

They may not have competed for a national title this past season, but you can fully expect that they will be considered as one of the favorites to win it all this upcoming season. Since arriving in Tuscaloosa, coach Nick Saban has done nothing but win big games and recruit big names. Alabama’s 2014 recruiting class graded out as the top group in the nation according to Rivals and ESPN (their third consecutive top ranked class, fifth top five class in five years). The Tide are a factory that has produced quality NFL talent under Saban for just under a decade now.

For that reason, the Tide are left with the daunting task of having to retool at key positions year after year. The players who depart from this program leave big shoes to fill for their backups and the incoming crop of recruits. Some of their key players from this past season needing to be replaced include: quarterback A.J. McCarron, linebacker C.J. Mosely, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio.

Alabama will begin the spring practice schedule in two weeks. During that time, the Alabama coaching staff will begin their preliminary evaluations on players to help assign roles -- especially the incoming freshman class. This should breed a few good position battles at different spots all over the roster.

Here are five potential position battles that you might see come to fruition during spring practice for Alabama.

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5. Backup Running Back

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Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Participants: Sophomore Derrick Henry, Junior Kenyan Drake

This may be the least significant of the battles because it doesn’t involve a starting role unless junior T.J. Yeldon loses his hold on the starting running back gig. Assuming that he won’t, Kenyan Drake and Derrick Henry will be in a competition for carries. Both are solid options to backup up Yeldon.

Drake served in the role last season and put up great numbers while carrying the ball just under 100 times. Henry’s output can’t be overlooked either. His performance in the Sugar Bowl showcased his explosive ability to get big yardage between the tackles and as a receiver coming out of the backfield. Regardless of who ends up with the most carries of the two this season, Alabama’s rushing attack shouldn’t struggle in 2014 due to its depth.

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4. Starting Defensive Ends

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Participants: Sophomore A’Shawn Robinson, Sophomore Dalvin Tomlinson, Freshman Da’Shawn Hand

Both starting defensive ends from the 2013 season, Ed Stinson and Jeoffrey Pagan, have moved on with their football careers and are looking to be drafted into the pros. That leaves both their spots open to competition this spring. Interesting enough, they run a 3-4 set on defense. This means that many players who would normally line up as the nose tackle in other sets can rotate from the interior to the end spots.

2013 five-star recruit A’Shawn Robinson is one guy to have your eye on. He played in each of the Crimson Tide’s games last year and statistically was the team’s top pass rusher. He may be better suited on the inside, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him rushing the pass more against the tackles next seasons. The same goes for Dalvin Tomlinson, who missed the majority of last season due to injury. He’s another big body guy to watch out for.

The player who could provide an immediate impact at the position right from the get go will be Da’Shawn Hand; however, he isn’t one of the few freshman to enroll early in school, so he will not be in action for the team this spring. His high ranking as arguably the top recruit in the entire 2014 class warrants his name being added to this position battle. He should receive an ample amount of opportunities to earn one of the spots this summer, though.

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3. Starting Left/Right Tackle

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John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Participants: Freshman Cameron Robinson, Senior Austin Shepherd, Sophomore Grant Hill

Last season, coach Saban tinkered with his offensive line a bit during games. This was in an effort to find that combination that would comprise his top five guys. Two starters from last season are no longer playing for the school in tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and guard Anthony Steen.

Essentially, all spots on the offensive line are filled except for Kouandjio’s spot at left tackle. From what I have heard about sophomore offensive lineman Grant Hill, it is expected that he will fill either tackle spot this season. The real competition would be between incoming, high ranking freshman Cameron Robinson and Austin Shepherd, who was a starter at right tackle last season. That’s a battle that will directly affect the chemistry on the line from day one.

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2. Starting Safety

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Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

Participants: Freshman Laurence Jones, Senior Nick Perry

Half of the defensive backfield is going to come down to position battles won in the spring. The battle here that intrigues me most is going to come down to who can emerge as the starting safety opposite Landon Collins. Both the primary starters at free safety and strong safety, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri, bolted early for the draft. While Sunseri was sidelined with a season-ending injury, Collins stepped in and became the starter. It’s safe to say he will most likely continue that role from day one.

I foresee the other safety spot being filled by either incoming freshman Laurence Jones or senior Nick Perry. Perry has started games for the Tide before, so the experience factor could play in his favor. Jones is a four-star prospect and the No. 3 safety in the 2014 class according to ESPN. The Tide certainly won when he re-committed due to their need for quality to players to step up and rebuild their secondary.

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1. Starting Quarterback

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Participants: Senior Blake Sims, Transfer Jacob Coker, Freshman Cooper Bateman, Freshman David Cornwell

Throw me on the wagon full of people who aren’t ready to throw the keys to the Bama offense to a transfer student in Jacob Coker. For some reason, he hasn’t stepped on the campus yet as an enrolled student, hasn’t thrown a pass in the uniform and he is being heralded as A.J. McCarron’s successor.

Don’t mistake that as a shot at the guy. I’m sure that he can chuck the ball all over the field, especially since he was in a close quarterback competition with eventual Heisman winner Jameis Winston last season, but this position definitely should be carefully won this spring and in the summer. Coker will only have the summer to win it as he will not be enrolled at Alabama for spring practices.

Three quarterbacks who could challenge him include senior Blake Sims, redshirt freshman Cooper Bateman and true freshman David Cornwell. Of those three, Sims is the only one who has thrown a pass in a collegiate game as McCarron’s backup. The lack of experience on this list is the main reason why coach Saban and new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin should promote a big time position battle at quarterback.

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