Tide starts spring focusing on ‘D’

March 13, 2010 

Defense must replace nine starters from ’09

By JOHN ZENOR

AP Sports Writer

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama’s biggest task for spring practice might be rebuilding a depleted defense, but the coaches also are making it clear that the Crimson Tide can’t dwell on the national championship.

“They definitely don’t want us to be satisfied with what we’ve done,” guard Barrett Jones said after the Crimson Tide held its first practice Friday. “We have an opportunity to be a great team this year, but we haven’t done anything yet.”

The Tide is an early favorite to open next season ranked No. 1 thanks to an offense that returns eight starters, including Heisman Trophy-winning tailback Mark Ingram and wide receiver Julio Jones.

Alabama worked out for about two hours Friday before beginning spring break with practice set to resume March 22. A defense that has been among the nation’s best the past two years must replace nine starters, including three All-Americans.

“Especially with the young guys we have on defense, it’s good to expose them,” coach Nick Saban said. “It gives them something to take home with them during the break.”

Saban said safety Robby Green was excused from practice for personal reasons but will be with the team when it returns from spring break. He had responded to an earlier report saying Green had been suspended by saying he wouldn’t comment until the player had gone through “due process.”

“We have not been through that, but he’s allowed to practice,” Saban said. “We’ll let you know when we have more information on what his situation is. I don’t have any more information on that right now.”

Center William Vlachos will miss the spring while recovering from foot surgery.

Linebacker Dont’a Hightower was limited Friday, but Saban said that was because of a strained calf, not the knee injury that required surgery.

The Tide is experimenting with receivers Kendall Kelly and Brandon Gibson at defensive back. Jalston Fowler, a running back signee, is getting a look at linebacker.

“Spring is a time where we’re going to fiddle around with the roster a little bit,” Saban said. “Depth chart means nothing in the spring. Mostly it’s for organizational purposes.”

Fowler is among eight newcomers, including seven freshmen and one junior college transfer, who are participating in spring practice.

The Tide must replace three starters in the secondary — along with some key backups and nickel backs — and three starting linebackers. All-American defenders Javier Arenas, Terrence Cody and Rolando McClain are all gone from one of the nation’s top defenses.

Alabama could find some answers this spring at cornerback. Highly touted freshmen DeMarcus Milliner and John Fulton both enrolled in January to attempt to challenge returnees such as B.J. Scott and LSU transfer Phelon Jones.

Hightower could replace Butkus Award winner McClain as leader of the linebackers.

“Everybody has to step up all at once,” said defensive end Marcell Dareus, one of the stars from the national championship game with Texas. “We really can’t say who’s going to be the leader. You really can’t tell right now.”

Dareus said the coaches made it clear that “we can’t live in the past.”

Notes: Saban said running back Terry Grant decided not to return to the team because of injuries. … Jones leaves Saturday for a mission trip to Pignon, Haiti, where he’ll work with an orphanage. … New defensive assistant Jeremy Pruitt is working with the defensive backs while coordinator Kirby Smart moved up to coach the linebackers.

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