Alabama football: 10 things to watch during spring practice
TUSCALOOSA, Alabama — Alabama football opens spring practice Friday in hopes of making a sixth consecutive run to the College Football Playoff.
The Crimson Tide will hold 14 practices, including two scrimmages, before culminating spring with the A-Day spring game Saturday, April 13.
Coming off the beating in the National Championship Game against Clemson, surely the returning players will be fueled to get back to the title game to erase that memory.
As we get ready for spring ball, here’s a look at 10 things we want to see from Alabama’s spring practice.
1. Life without Jalen Hurts … and who will be the backup quarterback?
For the first time in 3 years, Alabama will open spring practice without Jalen Hurts in the quarterback room. This is kind of what it felt like when AJ McCarron finally moved on, only Hurts is now in uniform for another Playoff contender in Oklahoma.
— Jalen Hurts (@JalenHurts) March 6, 2019
Hurts accomplished a lot while at Alabama, and played a major role in the Tide coming back to defeat Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. With Hurts gone, Alabama must find a backup quarterback.
The easy choice would be Mac Jones, who served as the backup when Hurts or Tagovailoa were banged up last season. But newcomers Taulia Tagovailoa and Paul Tyson will make a push for that spot. Alabama is set up for years to come at quarterback, but there isn’t much experience behind Tua.
2. Tua Tagovalioa make it through the spring healthy
Early in spring practice last year, Tua Tagovailoa suffered a thumb injury that limited his reps. It put a bit of a stall on the quarterback battle between Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts, which Tagovailoa eventually won.
With Hurts gone and a full year of starting under his belt, Tagovailoa is the unquestioned man this spring as he prepares for his junior season.
Tagovailoa dealt with knee and ankle injuries last season, but Alabama had Hurts available if needed. That luxury is gone. It’ll be interesting to see how Alabama handles reps for its other quarterbacks given how inexperienced the room is now.
3. Is this finally Terrell Lewis’ year?
Outside of opposing offenses, everyone wants to see Terrell Lewis start and finish a season healthy. The potential with Lewis is off the charts. He’s big, fast and physical. He’s explosive off the edge, and not afraid to mix it up against the run. Alabama needs Lewis to be healthy this year with Christian Miller gone. Lewis deserves to be healthy as well. He’s a kid who has pushed through multiple serious injuries. Here’s to hoping he can put it together this season.
4. Which linebacker will step up next to Dylan Moses?
Mack Wilson opted to skip his senior season, leaving Alabama with a hole at Mike linebacker. Dylan Moses is back, but beyond that, it’s unknown.
Alabama didn’t have much experienced depth at linebacker last season behind Moses and Wilson. They’ll need guys to step up this year to hold down the middle of the defense. You know what you’re getting in Moses. He was one of the top linebackers last year, and should be one of the favorites to win the Butkus Award this season.
One name to watch out for early is Ale Kaho. If Moses moves to Mike linebacker, Kaho could step in at Will linebacker. Markail Benton is another intriguing option as well. Both were 4-star recruits.
5. Is there a Quinnen Williams on this team?
No one could have predicted Quinnen Williams’ rise to where he is now. From redshirting his first year to being a somewhat seldomly used rotational player his second year, Williams dominated college football as a redshirt sophomore and will likely be a top 5 pick in the NFL Draft.
While we can’t expect someone to make that type of leap in 2019, it’s worth asking if there someone on Alabama’s defensive line who is poised to break out this season when given more opportunities. LaBryan Ray can be that guy. He played well last season in a rotational role. With Isaiah Buggs and Williams gone, Ray should see a big increase in snaps.
6. Is Najee Harris ready to be the man?
It’s Najee Harris’ time. After 2 years of waiting behind the likes of Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough and Josh Jacobs, Najee feels like the easy choice to be Alabama’s next feature running back.
He has the skills, the size and the work ethic. Now it’s time for him to put it all together.
But we can’t forget about the other running back Alabama signed in the 2017 recruiting cycle: Brian Robinson. Robinson has shown flashes of brilliance when given opportunities during his first 2 years. He has the making of a feature back as well, and Alabama has shown that it will rotate guys. This should be Harris’ year to show everyone why he was so highly rated in 2017, but if that doesn’t happen, Alabama is in good hands with Robinson.
7. Will Raekwon Davis reached his perceived potential?
Going into last season, we all assumed Raekwon Davis would have a monster junior year and leave for the NFL, but it was actually Quinnen Williams who did that. With Williams and Isaiah Buggs gone, Davis is the clear feature player on Alabama’s defensive line.
What is his potential? We look at Davis and see a mountain of a man. When he’s locked in, he is as disruptive as any defensive linemen in the country. Will we see that motor each time out? This is Davis final year to show NFL teams why he’s worth a first-round pick.
8. Which safety replaces Deionte Thompson?
Deionte Thompson leaving early wasn’t a surprise, but now Alabama must find someone to replace him on the backend next to Xavier McKinney. McKinney has the potential to be one of the best defensive backs in the country, and he’ll likely be a leader on the team.
In terms of replacing Thompson, Alabama has options. They could shift Shyheim Carter from Star to safety full-time. Carter is a natural ballhawk. Daniel Wright is an option now that he’ll be healthy. But senior Jared Mayden might make the most sense. He served as the sixth defensive back in Alabama’s dime package last year, so it wouldn’t be a stretch to move him to full-time starter.
9. Are Trevon Diggs and Patrick Surtain II ready to be lockdown corners?
Alabama’s secondary would have been completely different last year if Trevon Diggs didn’t get hurt. Diggs was playing well before the injury, and has all the tools to be an elite defensive back. His injury and early poor play from Saivion Smith forced Patrick Surtain II in a starting role. Surtain took some lumps as a true freshman, but he played well for the most part.
Heading into his sophomore year, Surtain now has experience to go with his natural abilities. If Diggs and Surtain can be lockdown corners, that would allow Alabama to get more creative with its blitzes and other defensive calls.
10. How will the team respond to this completely new coaching staff?
New year, completely new coaching staff. It’s become a recurring theme the past few seasons as Alabama has had unprecedented turnover on its coaching staff.
Steve Sarkisian is back as offensive coordinator and quarterback coach, and Pete Golding was bumped up to defensive coordinator.
Along with Sarkisian and Golding, Alabama added Brian Baker (associate head coach/defensive line), Charles Huff (associated head coach/running backs), Charles Kelly (associate defensive coordinator/safeties), Kyle Flood (offensive line), Sal Sunseri (outside linebacker) and Holmon Wiggins (wide receivers).
Jeff Banks (special teams coordinator/tight ends) and Karl Scott (cornerbacks) remain on staff from last season along with Golding.
That’s a lot of turnover. We’ll see how this team responds to it as they start their quest to win a 6th national championship under Nick Saban.