published Sunday, March 14th, 2010

Champions back to work

Bama has more holes to fill than '09 Gators

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    Photo by Alex Gilbert/University of Alabama Alabama's Greg McElroy workouts in the Crimson Tide's first spring practice.

Alabama got to relive its 2009 national championship one final time last Monday when the football team was honored at the White House.

By Friday, a new chapter was under way as the Crimson Tide began spring practice.

"No rest for the weary," defensive lineman Marcell Dareus said. "We have to go back after it again. It's time for us to make a legacy of our own, because we can't rely on last year's team."

Between now and the Sept. 4 opener against San Jose State at Bryant-Denny Stadium, Alabama will be linked countless times to last year's Florida Gators, who were coming off the '08 national title and returned quarterback Tim Tebow and their starting defense.

Florida's lone question mark last year concerned replacing deep receiving threats Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy, and the inability to do so limited the Gators compared to the season before. The Tide benefited from that in whipping the Gators 32-13 in the 2009 SEC title game.

Alabama is expected to be the solid preseason No. 1 just as Florida was a year ago, though the Tide have more areas that need solutions.

"There is a lot of opportunity on our team this year," Tide coach Nick Saban said, "because we lost a lot of great players."

The two most glaring gaps that need filling are at cornerback and on special teams, and freshmen will get chances in both areas.

Dre Kirkpatrick, B.J. Scott and LSU transfer Phelon Jones will be vying for the starting corner jobs vacated by Javier Arenas and Kareem Jackson, but so will early enrollees DeMarcus Milliner and John Fulton. Milliner was rated by Rivals.com as the No. 2 corner in the 2010 signing class, while Fulton was pegged No. 5.

Shoring up that position will be paramount, as Alabama's SEC opener will be at Arkansas, which returns quarterback Ryan Mallett.

The heightened interest in special teams is due to the departures of kicker Leigh Tiffin, punter P.J. Fitzgerald and Arenas, the most productive punt returner in SEC history. Looking to take over for Tiffin is early enrollee Cade Foster, who hails from the same high school (Southlake Carroll in Texas) as Tide quarterback Greg McElroy.

Alabama also signed an in-state punter, Jay Williams from Thomasville, in its most recent class.

Developing a defensive leader to succeed inside linebacker Rolando McClain is another task, as is replacing the dependability of left guard Mike Johnson and tight end Colin Peek. Alabama has plenty of time to go about this work, and the Tide will be doing it with a coach seeking a third consecutive 12-0 regular season.

"I am really pleased with the starting point we have as a team," Saban said. "Obviously, the most important thing is not where we are today, but how much we improve each and every day we have an opportunity to practice."

The Tide will not work out again until March 22, when the university returns from spring break, and the A-Day game has been set for April 17 at 3 p.m. EDT. For a second consecutive year, the spring game will be televised by ESPN.

Since Saban arrived in 2007, the three A-Day games have amassed an eye-popping 254,388 fans.

"It's been a quick transition, but honestly I'm excited about the possibilities of what this team can do," said right guard Barrett Jones, who left Saturday to spend spring break working at an orphanage in Haiti. "We're ready to restart the whole process and win another national championship."

School Spring Start Spring Game

Alabama Last Friday April 17

Arkansas March 30 April 24

Auburn March 24 April 17

Florida Wednesday April 10

Georgia March 4 April 10

Kentucky March 31 April 24

LSU February 26 March 27

Ole Miss March 27 April 17

Miss. State March 23 April 17

South Carolina Tuesday April 10

Tennessee Thursday April 17

Vanderbilt Wednesday April 10

about David Paschall...

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 ...

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