Tide players who must show big development in spring practices
It’s been less than two months since Alabama won its 16th national championship, but the work is never done. The Tide lost key players like Jake Coker, Derrick Henry, Reggie Ragland and A’Shawn Robinson to graduation and the NFL draft, and that means some new — and not-so-new — players will need to step up and make big improvements during spring practice.
Here are the players Alabama most needs to further develop their skills this spring:
1. Quarterback Cooper Bateman
Bateman’s only start in 2015 also happened to be the only game the Tide lost. He backed up Jake Coker the rest of the season, completing 37 of 52 pass attempts for 291 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. But if Bateman wants to lead the Tide this year, he’s going to have to make serious improvements this spring.
While Bateman was competing for the 2015 job, then-redshirt-freshman Blake Barnett was preparing for the 2016 job, practicing every day against the No. 3 defense in the country and gaining the support of his teammates.
“Once he learns everything and gets stronger and all that stuff and does the things he has to do, he’s going to be a monster in college football,” former Tide LB Reggie Ragland told reporters at the NFL Combine.
2. Inside linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton
Ragland was the core of this Alabama defense, and Reuben Foster will be stepping into that leadership role. But the Tide still needs someone to line up next to Foster. Hamilton looks to be that guy. The competition is still open, but as long as he continues to develop during spring practices, the job is his to lose.
3. Running backs Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris
The Tide is losing its dream team of Kenyan Drake and Heisman winner Derrick Henry to the NFL, so Scarbrough and Harris inherit significant responsibilities. Alabama usually doesn’t have a problem with backfield depth, and no one wants that to change this year.
Scarbrough missed most of 2015 after a knee injury, while Harris carried 46 times for 157 yards and a touchdown. Scarbrough is the favorite for the No. 1 spot, but the Tide needs production from both players — or perhaps true freshman B.J. Emmons.
4. Wide receiver Calvin Ridley
There’s no doubt about it, Ridley was a monster on offense in 2015. He was offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin’s favorite target, and he ended the season with 89 catches for 1,045 yards and seven touchdowns.
But here’s the thing: Ridley was a true freshman. Imagine what he could do this season if he continues improving in the spring. Early last year, Bama dumped the ball to him often on smoke screens. It would be nice to see Ridley develop chemistry with the new starting quarterback and be a consistent part of the teams’ downfield pass attempts.
5. The secondary
CB Minkah Fitzpatrick and S Eddie Jackson had a heck of a season in 2015. Fitzpatrick had 41 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions that he returned for touchdowns. Jackson racked up 46 tackles and six interceptions, including two he returned for six points. So any progress these two make in the spring only adds to their value.
It’ll be CB Marlon Humphrey and DB Tony Brown who need the most development this spring.
Humphrey didn’t earn a starting spot until late in the 2015 season, and he still managed to get 45 tackles and three interceptions. He should be able to hold onto the spot in the offseason, but he’s got room to develop as a leader.
Last season was supposed to be Brown’s breakout year, but after many troubles on and off the field, he’s in head coach Nick Saban’s doghouse, but he’s at least back on the team.
“He’s back with the team right now, but he is facing some future suspensions,” Saban said at the end of January.