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March 11, 2010

Tide welcomes spring with the first of many possible moves

TUSCALOOSA _ When the University of Alabama returns to the practice fields Friday for the start of spring football, players will notice at least one major change.

BamaOnline has learned that defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will switch from handling safeties during practices to linebackers. Instead, Jeremy Pruitt, promoted from Director of Player Development during the offseason, will work alongside Nick Saban in the secondary.

Smart, who won the 2009 Broyles Award as the top assistant coach in college football, will fill the position void left by James Willis, who was hired to be the defensive coordinator at Texas Tech.

Pruitt's primary coaching experience is with defensive backs dating back to being a student assistant coach at Alabama in 1997, when he worked under Curley Hallman. He also coached defensive backs at Plainview High School (1998 and 2000), West Alabama (1999), and Hoover High School (2004-6), although also had titles of defensive coordinator and assistant head coach.

Alabama will hold the first of 15 spring workouts before the university enjoys spring break and resume March 22. The final practice will be the annual A-Day Game on April 17, which will broadcast live on ESPN at 2 p.m.

"We had a good offseason program," Saban said during Wednesday's Pro Day workouts. "It's been a little shorter than normal, but we didn't want to push everything back until later. But we're anxious. Lots of people to evaluate, lots of people to teach."

Here's a quick position-by-position look at each position heading into the spring:

Quarterback: Greg McElroy still hasn't lost as a starter, so how everyone lines up behind him will likely be the focus this spring. A.J. McCarron moved into the No. 2 slot last season, but was able to redshirt while Star Jackson got some playing time in relief. Phillip Sims enrolled early and will probably put up some good numbers during scrimmages.

Running back: Mark Ingram won the Heisman Trophy and Trent Richardson is set as his backup. Eddie Lacy will compete with Terry Grant, Demetrius Goode and Jeramie Griffin for playing time, but there's a lot of depth so it wouldn't be surprising if at least one player switches positions.

Wide receiver: The only player Alabama lost was Mike McCoy, otherwise the entire unit has had a full year with McElroy. Julio Jones and Marquis Maze aren't likely to be dislodged as starters, with Darius Hanks the first off the bench, but Earl Alexander, Brandon Gibson are among those vying for more playing time. Kevin Norwood is one to watch.

Tight end: Michael Williams appears poised to step in for departed Colin Peek. Jones lined up occasionally at tight end during the 2009 season, a role that might go to Michael Bowman. Undra Billingsley may be the first option off the bench when an extra blocker is needed.

Offensive line: Replacements need to be found for Drew Davis and Mike Johnson, with Chance Warmack among those vying for the guard opening. However, right tackle could be one of the best position battles of the spring between Alfred McCullough, Tyler Love and D.J. Fluker.

Nose tackle: Josh Chapman has the experience but Kerry Murphy will likely push for the starting job. Either way, both are poised to get a lot of snaps this season.

Defensive end: Marcell Dareus will step in at one spot and Luther Davis essentially has the role of incumbent at the other but expect a lot of competition. Alabama rotates linemen so reserves have to be found. The challengers include Damion Square, Brandon Lewis, Milton Talbert, Chris Bonds, William Ming, Anthony Orr, Nick Gentry, Darrington Sentimore and Brandon Moore. Square is coming off an ACL injury and might get a look at Jack linebacker.

Linebackers: Three of the four starters are gone and while Dont'a Hightower's recovery from knee surgery is apparently going well he's not expected to do any hitting this spring. Consequently, it'll be very interesting to see where everyone lines up. Nico Johnson and Chris Jordan are expected to get the most looks on the inside while Courtney Upshaw and Jerrell Harris have the most experience on the outside. Two players in particular to keep an eye on will be Ed Stinson and Jonathan Atchison.

Cornerback: There's tons of talent, but very little experience. With the top four players on last year's depth chart gone no position has more turnover. Dre Kirkpatrick is the odds-on favorite to land one starting job, with B.J. Scott and Phelon Jones probably competing for the other. Also, true freshmen DeMarcus Milliner and John Fulton will try and earn immediate playing time. Nickel and dime roles need to be filled.

Safety: Mark Barron is the lone returning starter in the secondary while Robby Green's status has yet to be finalized a starter has to be found at free safety. Robert Lester might get the longest look this spring, but Kendall Kelly is expected to make the move from wide receiver and Rod Woodson will try and prove he's too good not to play.

Special teams: May not be a big spring priority, but every spot except long-snapper (expected to be Carson Tinker) needs to be filled. Getting his first work in a crimson jersey will be early enrollee Cade Foster.


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