Quarterback not the only question as Alabama begins spring practice

Quarterback not the only question as Alabama begins spring practice

March 12th, 2015 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin speaks with Alabama quarterback Jake Coker (14) in the second half against Florida Atlantic during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Alabama quarterback Jacob Coker (14) works through drills at the Hank Crisp Indoor Facility in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Alabama quarterback Jacob Coker (14) works through drills...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Though Alabama's football team came up short last season in its quest for the national championship, there is no denying the positive impact Lane Kiffin had in his first year as offensive coordinator.

The Crimson Tide averaged a program-record 484.5 yards per game, with quarterback Blake Sims (3,487 passing yards) and receiver Amari Cooper (124 catches for 1,727 yards) setting single-season school marks as well. The potent offense headlined a 12-2 season that included a 24th Southeastern Conference championship and the third under head coach Nick Saban.

"Lane did a fantastic job for us across the board," Saban said after the season. "He's a fantastic teacher, and he has a really good way with the players. He's a confront-and-demand guy, but he's got a good personality to where they respond well to him."

Kiffin's challenge during his second go-around in Tuscaloosa has its share of obstacles.

Gone are Sims, Cooper and tailback T.J. Yeldon, who rushed for 979 yards and 5.0 yards a carry despite battling injuries. Kiffin also has to replace three starters on the line, but junior tailback Derrick Henry is back along with super sophomore left tackle Cam Robinson.

Here are five spring storylines for Alabama, which kicks off the first of 15 workouts Friday and has its A-Day game scheduled for April 18.

WILL COKER BE CROWNED?

Jacob Coker is the favorite to claim the starting quarterback role, but whether or not the fifth-year senior receives such a declaration this spring from Saban is another matter.

Coker was expected to win the job last summer after transferring from Florida State but wound up relegated to mop-up duty. He excelled at that, completing 38 of 59 passes for 403 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions, and he led the Crimson Tide to a key third-quarter touchdown against Florida while Sims was hurt.

Also in the mix are redshirt junior Alec Morris, redshirt sophomore Cooper Bateman, redshirt freshman David Cornwell and early enrollee Blake Barnett. Saban has said he will give each a chance to guide the first-team offense, including Barnett.

SAFETY CONCERNS

Alabama's secondary is now under the guidance of Mel Tucker, with defensive coordinator Kirby Smart moving up a level to work with the inside linebackers.

Tucker is not lacking for a to-do list.

Safeties Landon Collins and Nick Perry must be replaced, and the Tide would love to settle on a cornerback opposite senior Cyrus Jones. Sophomore Tony Brown is the most likely candidate at that other corner spot, while well-traveled senior Geno Smith could find a final home at free safety.

Two heralded youngsters hoping to make moves are cornerback Marlon Humphrey, a five-star in 2014 who redshirted last season, and early enrollee Deionte Thompson, who was ranked among the nation's top three safety prospects by Rivals.com.

CALLING ALL RECEIVERS

Cooper and his record-setting productivity obviously leaves a void, but Christion Jones and DeAndrew White must be replaced as well. That trio combined for 183 catches for 2,495 yards a season ago, with Jones leading the team in both punt returns and kickoff returns.

Alabama has one returning receiver with a touchdown to his credit -- congratulations Cam Sims! -- but the Crimson Tide do have emerging potential with Sims, Chris Black, Robert Foster and ArDarius Stewart. The team's biggest pass-catching weapon later this year could be freshman Calvin Ridley, or it could be junior tight end O.J. Howard, who had a 52-yard touchdown against LSU as a freshman but did not have big numbers last year due to the Sims-Cooper connection.

WHO LINES UP WITH REGGIE?

It seems like Alabama always has one linebacker to build around after he elects to return for his senior season.

Trey DePriest played that role last season, and now it's Reggie Ragland's turn. The 6-foot-2, 254-pounder amassed 95 tackles and 10.5 tackles for loss last season, and he is expected to dish out the defensive responsibilities come September.

Lining up inside with Ragland could be senior Dillon Lee, junior Reuben Foster or sophomore Shaun Dion Hamilton. Senior Denzel Devall has a lot of experience outside, and one player to watch in upcoming weeks should be sophomore Rashaan Evans.

Remembered in recruiting for choosing Alabama over Auburn, where his father was a tailback in the early 1980s, Evans had 15 tackles and two tackles for loss as a freshman and made more and more contributions as the year progressed.

FINDING HENRY'S BACKUPS

Derrick Henry would be a nice centerpiece to any offense, but Alabama has ridden a tailback tandem to a lot of success under Saban.

Who could work in that second-team spot this spring?

Senior Kenyan Drake is a likely candidate for the fall but is still on the mend from a broken leg he suffered in early October at Ole Miss, while redshirt sophomore Tyren Jones was suspended last month. That could give an opportunity to heralded 2014 signee Bo Scarbrough, who was not immediately eligible to play for the Crimson Tide but joined the team for workouts leading up to the Sugar Bowl.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.


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