5 Alabama Players To Watch (That You Aren’t Already) in Spring Practice
Since Nick Saban had arrived in Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide has sent many players to the NFL, sometimes as many as ten being drafted in a single season. The flip side of that is the holes left when these players depart.
2014 marks one of the more interesting off-seasons in Saban's tenure at Alabama. For the first time since 2011, the Tide do not have a returning starter at quarterback. The defense also loses its leader, and the secondary will be heavily watched after last season ended poorly for that group.
Without a doubt, these races will be the most watched by fans and media alike. But there are some more position battles that won't make as much news but may be just as important to the Tide's season in 2014. Here are five players to watch this spring in those competitions:
Grant Hill was used to replace injured lineman throughout last season. He saw time sparingly, and at several different positions. Hill is a physical specimen, and has impressed coaches and teammates since he arrived on campus last summer. It's not a question of if he will play, but where? Hill was recruited as a tackle, but has spent more time playing guard, though this may be due to necessity. With Kouandjio and Steen gone, filling in the holes on the offensive line will be important.
Brandon Ivory has seen action at the defensive tackle position throughout his career at Alabama, though he has yet to earn the starting job. This spring is his last chance, and he would appear to be one of the leading contenders for that spot. A block-eating tackle is crucial to the success of the 3-4 scheme, and past stars such as Terrence Cody, Josh Chapman and Jesse Williams have been some of the most important players in Saban's tenure. Ivory has the build to be that kind of space eater.
Dee Liner came to Alabama as a heralded freshman in 2013, though he saw limited playing time in his first season with the Tide. Unlike the space-eating linemen that Saban is known to recruit, Liner was brought in for his pass-rush ability. He was overshadowed by A'Shawn Robinson last season, but Liner has the ability to give Alabama another threat off the edge. Another strong pass-rusher would free up the Jack LB to roam the flats, which could help Bama defend against the increasing nuber of spread offenses in the SEC.
If the defensive line can get a more efficient pass-rush going, the biggest beneficiary would be the Jack LB. With Adrian Hubbard and Ed Stinson gone, Xzavier Dickson becomes the Jack LB with the most experience returning. Dickson will still play many snaps with his hand in the dirt, but defending the spread means letting this hybrid player do more roaming than normally allowed in the 3-4. Dickson will have to prove himself over talented newcomers, but hos experience should prove useful.