Alabama boss Kalen DeBoer revealed 10 Things to Look For as Alabama Football Opens Spring Camp

The Kalen DeBoer era begins on Monday with the Crimson Tide’s first spring practice.
TUSCALOOSA, Alabama — A new day dawns in Tuscaloosa, as Alabama spring practice begins on Monday. For the first time in 17 years, there will be a fresh face on the sidelines and behind the podium at the post-practice press conference.

There will be many changes and adjustments for players, fans, and the media to get acclimated to, but there is a new sense of excitement in the air as the temperatures rise and Alabama football begins life after Nick Saban.

Kalen DeBoer’s tenure as head coach of the Crimson Tide begins with the first spring practice on Monday, and it will end with his first A-Day game on April 13 at 3 p.m. inside Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Here are ten storylines to keep an eye out for at spring camp for the Crimson Tide:

1. Will there be a quarterback battle?
If Saban were still the head coach, I doubt this would be a question. Jalen Milroe, the returning captain and top-10 Heisman finisher, would be the starter. And I still believe that will be the case, with his job to lose.

However, DeBoer brings a very different offensive system to Tuscaloosa than what has been run in the pass. Washington had the second-best passing offense in the country last season, and Husky starting quarterback Michael Penix Jr. was runner-up for the Heisman. DeBoer and his offensive staff have proven they can develop quarterbacks, and in media appearances DeBoer has been encouraged by the growth of Milroe.

But Alabama has an interesting mix of talent in its quarterback room. Ty Simpson enters his third season at Alabama and chose to stick around for another spring despite sitting behind Milroe last season. Dylan Lonergan only saw action in one game last season against Chattanooga, but the redshirt freshman continued to develop buzz as one of the best arms on the team and had.a strong A-Day performance in 2023.

Austin Mack, a Washington transfer, is maybe the most fascinating component in the quarterback room. He’s the only one who has firsthand experience in DeBoer’s system, having sat behind and learned from Michael Penix Jr. this season as an early enrollee at Washington.

The 10 players we're excited to see during Alabama football's spring  practices

2. Are Justice Haynes and Jam Miller Alabama’s future best running back duo?
Alabama’s top two running backs from last season are no longer with the program. Jase McClellan declared for the NFL draft, while Roydell Williams transferred to Florida State. While those two combined for the majority of the yards and carries last season, two young running backs stepped up at the end of the season.

Jam Miller completed his sophomore season with 41 carries for 201 yards and one touchdown. Justice Haynes was a highly touted rookie who did not get much on-field time with the offense due to the seniority over him. However, he had one of his best games of the season in Alabama’s Rose Bowl defeat to Michigan, averaging 7.8 yards per run against the tough Wolverine defense.

10 Things to Look For as Alabama Football Opens Spring Camp - Sports  Illustrated Alabama Crimson Tide News, Analysis and More

DeBoer’s approach is more pass-heavy than most Alabama fans are used to, but Haynes and Miller, the team’s top running backs, might have a great year.

3. Who will become Alabama’s starting cornerbacks?
Outside of Malachi Moore, Alabama’s secondary has been virtually completely depleted from the previous season. Terrion Arnold and Kool-Aid McKinstry, starting corners, are headed to the NFL as underclassmen, joining Jaylen Key, who was out of eligibility. Seven defensive backs entered the transfer portal, led by starter Caleb Downs, and contributors Trey Amos and Kristian Story.
In addition to Moore, the only scholarship players returning in the secondary are senior DeVonta Smith, rising sophomores Bray Hubbard and Tony Mitchell, and redshirt freshman Jahlil Hurley. These four players have a total 0 starts.

Alabama did get some help from the portal in USC cornerback Domani Jackson and Michigan safety Keon Sabb. Jackson will almost certainly be one of the starters at corner, but the other will likely come from one of the Tide’s highly-rated freshmen in Jaylen Mbakwe or Zavien Brown. However it shakes out in the spring and then continues to develop through fall camp, there will be a lot of new faces and inexperience in the secondary.
4. Who steps up at offensive tackle?
Alabama returns both starting guards in Tyler Booker and Jaeden Roberts. That’s the good news. The bad news is new offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic will have to replace both starting tackle spots from a year ago as right tackle JC Latham declared for the NFL draft and left tackle Kadyn Proctor transferred home to Iowa.

Before Proctor claimed the job as a true freshman, it was a battle between him and Elijah Pritchett. Now a redshirt sophomore, Pritchett will likely slide into the left tackle position, but what about the other side?

This is when things become a little trickier. Alabama has no one with expertise at the position or any collegiate experience, and the remaining offensive tackles on the roster are freshmen or redshirt freshmen. Some contenders to look out for in the spring at right tackle would be redshirt freshman Olaus Alinen, Wilkin Formby, and Miles McVay.

5. How will the players react to the new coaching staff?
Obviously, the most significant shift begins at the top, with the transition from Saban to DeBoer. However, other from the defensive backs, with whom Saban worked closely, the majority of returning players likely spent more time with their specific position coaches.

The only on-field coaches who remain from last season’s staff are running back coach Robert Gillespie and defensive line coach Freddie Roach. DeBoer has praised these two with keeping the club together amid periods of transition.

Nick Sheridan (quarterbacks) and JaMarcus Shephard (wide receivers) are among the newcomers, having joined DeBoer as co-offensive coordinators from Washington. Chris Kapilovic leads the offensive line, and Brian Ellis coaches the tight ends.

Kane Wommack, the former South Alabama head coach, will serve as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. Colin Hitschler and Maurice Linquist share responsibility as defensive coordinators. Christian Robinson will be the outside linebackers coach.

6. Which transfer has the largest impact?
Alabama added eight players via the transfer portal, with three committed to Saban (Jackson, Naquil Bertrand, and LT Overton) and three committed to DeBoer
Four players (Mack, wide receiver Germie Bernard, center Parker Brailsford, and tight end Josh Cuevas) accompanied DeBoer to Alabama from Washington. He also picked up Sabb’s commitment.

Bernard, Jackson, and Brailsford are primed to make an early impact as starters in positions of necessity. Jackson was already mentioned in the piece, but Brailsford will take over the center position left empty by Seth McLaughlin’s move to Ohio State. Alabama lost its top three pass catchers from last year, and Bernard’s 34 receptions for 419 yards and two scores at Washington would have ranked third in Alabama’s receiving yards. Expect all three to play significant roles in spring.

7. Is Conor Talty prepared to succeed Will Reichard?
Will Reichard appears to have spent nearly as much time at Tuscaloosa as Saban did. Reichard was the Crimson Tide’s starting kicker for five seasons, and he became the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer.

After years of speculation over the kicker situation, Alabama supporters could breathe a sigh of relief when Reichard went out to kick. Redshirt freshman Conor Talty, who learned from Reichard last year, is now in line to take over the starting position.

With Reichard on the hunt for the NCAA record last season, Talty only attempted one extra point, but he did boot six kickoffs in three different games.

8. What positions will Alabama still need to fill from the transfer portal?
During various media opportunities over the last few weeks, DeBoer has said Alabama still has a few roster spots left open to potentially get players from the transfer portal.
As previously mentioned, the Crimson Tide has added a number of players over the offseason, but it is not uncommon for players to join from the portal over the summer. Henry To’oTo’o and Jameson Williams did not join Alabama in 2021 until after spring football had ended in the summer.

Elite, starting players don’t grow on trees, and the pickings in the portal will be slimmer at this time of year, but Alabama would likely like to add experience at cornerback or tackle if available.

9. How many players will use the portal after spring?
In today’s college football, if players haven’t secured a spot on the first or second string of the depth chart by the end of spring practice, there’s a good chance they’ll use the transfer portal. Alabama saw 25 players join the portal this offseason, including several starters following Saban’s retirement announcement.

Most significantly, it will be intriguing to see if quarterbacks who finish outside of the top two in the QB race go to the portal. There will also be a spillover effect in other positions for players who do not see a future with the Crimson Tide.

10. What will fan turnout/support be like for DeBoer’s first A-Day?
Bryant-Denny Stadium, which had a capacity of nearly 92,000, was crowded on Saban’s inaugural A-Day in 2007. It quickly demonstrated fan enthusiasm and support for what Saban could do at Alabama.

Will it be the same for DeBoer? Since 2007, attendance at the annual spring scrimmage has steadily declined, but there should be increased energy and eagerness to see what DeBoer’s offense and system will bring to the Crimson Tide.
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