Reigning BCS champion Alabama enters spring practice looking to rebuild for another title run in 2013. Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban has lost some important pieces from last year's squad, but as usual the cupboard is far from bare in Tuscaloosa. Here are five storylines as Bama gets back to work.
1. Rebuilding the offensive line
This is easily the top priority from a personnel standpoint, as Alabama must replace center Barrett Jones, left guard Chance Warmack and right tackle D.J. Fluker. All three of those players are expected to be selected within the first two rounds of next month's NFL draft.
Talented left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and underrated right guard Anthony Steen are the two returning starters who should provide a strong foundation. Ryan Kelly is the leading candidate at center, while Arie Kouandjio could play next to his younger brother as Warmack's successor.
"If Arie starts at left guard next to me, then it's going to be a lockdown on the left side," Cyrus said in Miami. "I can tell you that right now. I's going to be a no-fly zone, because nothing is coming around that side. That's also where the ball is going to be run to 100 percent of the time.
"We are going to be a force to be reckoned with."
The best battle could be at right tackle, where junior Austin Shephard will be challenged by newcomer Leon Brown from ASA College in New York City.
2. Depth on the defensive front
Jesse Williams, Damion Square and Preston Dial were seniors for last year's champs, while D.J. Pettway halted his career in Tuscaloosa with a second-degree robbery arrest and an ensuing dismissal last month.
That leaves a potential starting front of Ed Stinson, Brandon Ivory and Jeoffrey Pagan, which could be stout, but there would be a lot of inexperience behind them. One potentially promising player yet to break through is redshirt sophomore LaMichael Fanning, who at 6-foot-7 and 300 pounds is beyond imposing.
Fanning's dubious claim to fame to this point was his brutal and needless body-slamming of a Missouri running back during the waning stages of last year's win in Columbia.
3. Establishing the next tight end
Brad Smelley and Michael Williams were overlooked but effective weapons on each of Alabama's past two championship teams.
The most experienced tight ends this year are junior Brian Vogler, who has three catches for 27 yards in his career, and Harrison Jones, who is Barrett's younger brother. Jones has one career catch for 5 yards.
Five-star signee O.J. Howard has the best shot of making the biggest move among the nine early enrollees, and it would not be a shock if he entered August camp as the favorite to start.
4. Tailback pecking order
T.J. Yeldon is the unquestioned starter after becoming the first freshman in Alabama history to surpass 1,000 yards.
Yeldon amassed 1,108 yards and 6.3 yards per carry while teaming with Eddie Lacy. The Crimson Tide lost Lacy a year early to the NFL but signed four top-100 prospects at that position last month, including early enrollee Derrick Henry.
Kenyan Drake rushed for 281 yards and 6.7 a carry last season in games that Alabama had in control, and his playing time increased after Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart suffered season-ending injuries. Where Fowler and Hart stand in the recovery process could factor into the pecking order this spring, and Henry wants to make the most of these 15 practices before the three other freshmen arrive.
5. Determining McCarron's backup
The only player who may be safer than Tide quarterback AJ McCarron as a Southeastern Conference starter is South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
Last season, there were games in which Blake Sims was the first to come in for mop-up duty and others when Phillip Ely got the call. Whether there is separation between those two will be one story to follow, as will the scrimmage showings of redshirt freshman Alec Morris and early enrollees Cooper Bateman and Parker McLeod.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...