Alabama started spring practice Saturday, and things are well underway around the SEC. Thirteen of 14 teams have started spring practice, with Kentucky bringing up the rear in starting next week.
This is an important spring for Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide, who lost the last two games of the season. The Tide went from everybody’s favorite to make a three-peat to a losing streak.
Here are five players who have to step up this spring and into the 2014 season in order for the Tide to get back on top:
Reuben Foster, LB (SO)
2013 stats: 12 tackles, 1 TFL
Buzz: With CJ Mosley, one of the most decorated Alabama players ever, graduating, who’s going to fill his shoes? Reuben Foster is known more for his Auburn-turned-Alabama tattoo than anything, but this young man has big-time talent and a big future. Trey DePriest will take over the leadership role of the defense as the weathered veteran, and Foster should slide into a vacant middle linebacker job. Foster is a raw and athletic playmaker who will have a better overall understanding of what the defense is trying to accomplish after this spring. He plays with a reckless abandon.
Robert Foster, WR (rFR)
2013 stats: Foster redshirted
Buzz: Robert Foster was the last 2013 signee who made it on campus, and he redshirted his freshman year. He was ranked as the country’s No. 1 overall wide receiver by 247Sports, but ultimately, the depth chart was too much to overcome. However, with senior Kevin Norwood exiting, there’s a bigger role that needs filling. DeAndrew White could be that guy, or Robert Foster could also. There’s enough time for both players to assume bigger roles. But he sure looks the part at 6-3, 190. He’ll benefit from an important spring practice.
Derrick Henry, RB (SO)
2013 stats: 36 carries, 382 yards, 3 TDs
Buzz: Alabama’s favorite running back is always the backup. It was true for TJ Yeldon, and it’s true for Derrick Henry. Henry is the type of bruiser at 6-3, 240 pounds that you just get tired of tackling in the fourth quarter. Now, the Tide’s backfield is loaded with depth, but I’m not sure Henry isn’t the best out of the six vying for playing time. And that Sugar Bowl! He looked like a tank with a bad attitude. You have to figure Henry and Yeldon will get the most carries this year, and if Yeldon doesn’t stop fumbling, he could lose his starting gig altogether. Henry isn’t exactly filling anyone’s shoes, but rather, he could be the player Lane Kiffin builds his offense around.
Cameron Robinson, OT (FR)
Buzz: Robinson is the only true freshman on the list, but he’s an early enrollee who’s talented enough to win a starting job. We saw Ole Miss’ Laremy Tunsil do it last year; we saw Georgia’s John Theus do it in 2012. It’s rare that young linemen are talented and dominant enough to win a starting job. Cameron Robinson is that guy. We’ll see whether or not he sews up the job this spring, but he didn’t sign or enroll early at Alabama to sit on the bench. With Cyrus Kouandjio off to the greener NFL pastures, Robinson may have hit the early playing time lottery.
Geno Smith, S (JR)
2013 stats: 10 tackles, 1 TFL, 4 pass breakups
Buzz: Geno Smith is the type of player who frustrates coaches. He’s too talented to just brush aside, but he just won’t take hold of a starting gig and clamp down on it. With Landon Collins as the only returning starter in the secondary, Smith’s time is now – put up or shut up. I think he puts up; furthermore, I bet he wins the starting job opposite Collins and they become a potent safety tandem. Smith has all the ability in the world, and sometimes it takes players a year or two for the switch to flip.
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