Pre-Spring Offseason Forecast: Alabama

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With the offseason officially underway, SDS will examine what’s next for spring football for all 14 teams. First up, Alabama.

What’s changing

Just like much throughout his head coaching tenure, Nick Saban’s staff isn’t changing much. Defensive secondary coach Jeremy Pruitt left for Florida State, and Greg Brown was brought in to replace him. Brown was Colorado’s defensive coordinator the last two seasons and has coached the secondary for at least 20 years throughout his 32-year coaching career. Brown will coach a group that loses two starters heading into 2013, and replacing Dee Milliner and Robert Lester is crucial. Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland left Bama to join Chip Kelly and the Eagles a week ago. Stoutland had been at Alabama since 2011. Saban has yet to name a replacement.

Position of concern

With the loss of DJ Fluker, Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack, combining with the loss of position coach Jeff Stoutland, it’s easy to see why there is concern around the offensive line. After all, the Tide return multiple players at every position, and that’s true for the offensive line. But they are simply unproven. Chad Lindsay and Isaac Luatua will battle at left guard; Ryan Kelly should slide into the center spot, and Austin Shepherd and Brandon Greene will battle at right tackle. However, early enrollees and JUCO transfers Leon Brown and Brandon Hill will battle for playing time, too. Brown is 6-6, 310 pounds and is a road grader, while Hill is 6-6, 390 pounds. That’s 700 pounds of mass added to make a splash. I expect Brown to make an impact next season.

Emerging spring player prediction

Freshman early enrollee and jumbo athlete Derrick Henry will turn heads and will be the talk of the spring. His daunting size at 6-3, 240 pounds, combined with his crazy athleticism, will make coaches pencil him in as a player next fall. Now, there is some controversy over what position he’ll ultimately play, whether running back, H-Back, tight end or even outside linebacker, but wherever he lands – and I predict on offense – he’s going to be a force. Just like 2012 early enrollee TJ Yeldon, Henry will be the talk of spring.

Three signees to be excited about

1. OJ Howard, TE: Can you imagine a receiving weapon in Bama’s offense? OJ Howard could do just that, and being an early enrollee, Howard has a chance to have a leg up on the competition. At just 220 pounds, Howard will be a receiving threat and a matchup problem right off the bat, but he likely won’t be a big blocking end for a year or two. Can you imagine Howard and Henry running routes on the same play?

2. Jonathan Allen, OLB: I would describe Jonathan Allen as the perfect match for Nick Saban’s Jack linebacker. Allen is physically ready at 250 pounds to make an impact as a freshman. There isn’t another athlete with his frame who possesses his kind of athleticism. He’ll become the next great pass rusher for Saban’s 3-4 defense.

3. Alvin Kamara, RB: For all the talk about Bama’s log jam at running back, Kamara has a chance to get on the field quicker than others because he can slide out to slot receiver. He’s that good of an athlete, and he expects to come in and make an impact. Neither Tyren Jones nor Altee Tenpenny share Kamra’s versatility.

Primary position battle

Alabama has TJ Yeldon and a cast of backup running backs. In fact, five other backs will battle this spring for the No. 2 slot. When fall comes, three more enter in Tyren Jones, Alvin Kamara and Altee Tenpenny. But right now, the main contenders entering spring are freshman Kenyan Drake, early enrollee Derrick Henry, and two recovering from knee injuries in Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart. Everyone will be keeping their eye on the running backs all through the spring.

Photo Credit: John David Mercer-US PRESSWIRE

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