Here are five players to watch when Alabama opens spring practice Friday on the Tuscaloosa campus:
Dee Hart (RB, RS Fr.) stands to benefit tremendously with Eddie Lacy out for spring practice. The redshirt freshman looked to be gaining ground last year before a knee injury sidelined him. Now, he has the opportunity to step up and take part in a wide-open competition. He will have a leg up on T.J. Yeldon with his knowledge of terminology and blocking schemes. Hart also offers a very different look than the other backs -- a smaller scat back who can get to the edge and make defenders miss. If he stays healthy, Hart could make some noise this spring.
C.J. Mosley (LB, Jr.) is fighting a double-edged sword. He’ll have to learn to play without the buffer of Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw, as well as battling to come back from a dislocated hip. Nick Saban said he’s back at full speed, but we will have to wait and see how he handles contact. With so much of the experience gone from last year’s defense, how Mosley and fellow junior Nico Johnson step up and lead this unit is vital.
Cyrus Kouandjio (OT, Soph.) will have implications for the entire offensive line. If he can come back and establish himself at left tackle, it will allow Barrett Jones to slide over to center and make up for the loss of William Vlachos. Kouandjio certainly has the size and showed last year he has the skill to play the position. How he sustains that production will be key to the line’s success in 2011.
Dee Milliner (CB, Jr.) will step into a much larger role on defense with three-quarters of the secondary gone. The junior cornerback played in all 13 games last year and hauled in a team-high three interceptions, earning himself first crack at a starting spot in 2012. Things will be different this year, though, without the protection of so many talented, experienced defensive backs. If Milliner can prove he’s a shutdown corner, it will give Alabama a great starting point with which to rebuild a defense.
Kevin Norwood (WR, Jr.) came on strong against LSU in New Orleans, with four receptions for 78 yards. If he can continue to build upon that effort, he will give Doug Nussmeier an experienced option for an otherwise young group of receivers. With freshmen Amari Cooper and Chris Black competing for starting spots, you’ve got to think the coaching staff would like one of the upperclassmen to step up and take a bigger role in the offense.