Bama begins to work on three-peat

March 19, 2013 

Stung by the insult of being snubbed by the men's basketball tournament selection committee, Alabama fans at least maintained proper perspective.

Spring football practice has begun.

March Madness, babyyyyyy! Tuscaloosa style!

Forget bracketology? Let's talk about depth chartonomics.

The program that won its third national championship in four years has reset its record back to 0-0 and reset its sights on another title. Likewise, Nick Saban rewound his intensity back to Level 1, which is still higher than most coaches in mid-season paranoia form. His first press conference contained no admonishments of the media, no derisive stares, and there was even a detectable smile. Plenty of time later to work on game plans and media dress-downs.

"The main objective of spring practice is to focus on player improvement," Saban said. "Whether it's what a player needs to do, the technique of how he should do it, or having an understanding conceptually of why he should do it that way. Progress and improve."

Just don't dare suggest to Saban that this team will be defending its championship.

"Every year, you have to reinvent your team," Saban said. "Who are going to be the leaders? Who are to be the guys who set an example. And who steps forward as young players? Who shows that they have the responsibility to do a job and be dependable in doing that job so we have a chance to play winning football."

And that certainly will be the case in 2013 for the Crimson Tide. The offensive line - one of the most dominant lines college football has seen in 25 years - has to be rebuilt. It would surprise no one if come fall, D.J. Fluker, Chance Warmack and Barrett Jones are starting in the NFL as rookies. Eddie Lacy, the team's leading rusher, is gone. Six starters or contributors on defense are gone, including cornerback Dee Milliner, possibly a top-five pick in next month's NFL draft.

What are valid concerns to Saban are mere details to the rest of college football trying to close the gap. There isn't a college coach in America that wouldn't trade his roster straight up for Alabama's.

Yeah, Lacy is gone, but T.J. Yeldon might be better. And Jalston Fowler, coming back from knee surgery, is a power back who can contribute if he stays at running back, though he might move to H-back. Then there's Derrick Henry, a true freshman and early enrollee, who might be better than them all. And Alvin Kamara, another freshman set to arrive in the fall, might be even better than Henry. At a minimum, Kamara will add the dimension of break-away speed. Running back is so deep that Dee Hart, a former prize recruit, is being given a long look at cornerback.

Yeah, the offensive line needs an overhaul. But Cyrus Kouandjio returns at left tackle. Two newcomers, Leon Brown, a junior college transfer, and Brandon Hill, might be

just as good. Brown is the smaller of the two - a mere 6-foot-6, 300 pounds. Hill is 6-7, 390. Both enrolled early to go through spring practice, which undoubtedly put a dent in the dining hall budget.

Yeah, the defense has to replace its top two playmakers in the secondary, Milliner and safety Robert Lester. Linebacker Nico Johnson will be missed. And the line has lost three key players - nose tackle Jesse Williams and end Damion Square and Quinton Dial.

But there are new players coming in and seasoned backups who have been waiting for their turns. Signing top five recruiting classes each year prevents a significant drop in talent.

"Everybody's got to be able to perform. I don't care what your circumstances are. I don't care what issues or problems you have, whether you're coming off being hurt, whether you had a bad day academically or whatever, you've still got to show that you're dependable and that you can go out there and perform. That's a part of mental toughness and focus that every player has to sort of prove he can do."

The spring game will be held April 20. T-town will be rocking, even without Dickie V in the house.

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