The process, as Nick Saban says, is about to begin.
Alabama football players officially will report to campus today. Practice begins Thursday for a program seeking to recapture the magic of 2008 while hoping to forget how 2009 started. The 12 straight wins in the regular season set up the disappointment for the two postseason setbacks.
Expectations are high for the first preseason in a while as another top-ranked recruiting class joins an already loaded roster to make the Crimson Tide a consensus preseason top-10 team.
Issues, however, remain.
Saban will address reporters at 1 p.m. today to discuss the ever-changing group of scholarship players which must be trimmed down to 85 to meet NCAA guidelines. Alabama had only 11 lettermen leave the program and had 25 sign letters of intent in February.
That meant a sloppy offseason that has included at least four confirmed transfers with several others suspected. So with lips sealed tight in Tuscaloosa, today’s news conference is expected to provide insight into the roster moves.
“We still could have a couple players who could or couldn’t qualify,” Saban said July 23 at SEC Media Days. “We have quite a few players who have already enrolled in school.”
Some incoming freshmen will take a grayshirt this season, meaning they will not enroll in school as a full-time student until spring. They will not count against the 85 scholarships, unlike players who redshirt.
“And we have some players who are contemplating what their future’s gonna be relative to the University of Alabama,” Saban said in Hoover.
Those players who will return are scheduled to be at the Thomas-Drew Practice Fields at 10:30 a.m. Thursday. Newcomers will take their first official reps later in the day at 8:30 p.m. The full team will work out at 3:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday before Sunday’s Fan Day at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The two-hour practice, which will be open to the public runs from 3:30-5:30 p.m. and will be followed by a 45-minute autograph signing on the field.
Tide fans will not get another look at the team until Sept. 5, when Alabama travels to Atlanta to play Virginia Tech in the Georgia Dome. The rest of the summer practices are closed to the public.
Today: All players report to campus and coach Nick Saban will address reporters at noon.
Thursday: Practice begins. Returning players start at 9:30 p.m. with newcomers taking the field at 7:30 p.m.
Sunday: Fan Day at Bryant-Denny Stadium begins with two-hour open practice starting at 2:30 p.m.
Aug. 11: First two-a-day practice with full squad (9:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.)
Aug. 15: First scrimmage at Bryant-Denny Stadium
Aug. 16: First off-day of practice.
Aug. 17: Second two-a-day practices (9:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.)
Aug. 19: Classes begin
Aug. 22: Second scrimmage at Bryant-Denny Stadium
Aug 23, 24: Team gets two days off
Aug. 30: Final day off before first game week
Sept. 5: Season begins vs. Virginia Tech in Atlanta.
Five questions entering practice
1. How will Greg McElroy deal with the pressure of being the starting quarterback?
The junior appeared cool, calm and collected in his first appearance in the spotlight at April’s A-Day game. But there is a big difference between an intra-squad scrimmage in the spring and actual preparations in the fall. McElroy does have the confidence of teammates including Decatur’s Rolando McClain who said outsiders will be surprised with how effective the first-year starter will be.
2. Which freshmen will step right into starting roles?
There are a few big names that continue to draw praise. Offensive lineman D.J. Fluker, a high school All-American, has been touted as the next Andre Smith a freshmen starter who went on to win the Outland Trophy and the sixth-pick of the 2009 NFL Draft. Running back Trent Richardson also has plenty of hype entering a crowded Tide backfield and Dre Kirkpatrick could help out in the defensive secondary.
3. How could injuries play a factor?
One of the keys to success in 2008 was the remarkably clean list of injuries. Without losing stars for any extended period of time, Alabama cruised to 12 straight wins. Now it doesn’t have as much depth at key positions (offensive line, quarterback) so a season-ending injury could spell more of an issue this fall.
4. Who will be the surprise of August?
At least one player every August catches everyone by surprise. Sometimes it is good. Other times it can be a disaster. Of course these mystery players are the hardest to identify beforehand, but will be the topic of much discussion by September.
5. Who will be Robin to (Batman) Julio Jones?
Last season’s impact freshman is poised for another big season as a sophomore. But in order to be as effective as expected, he will need at least one sidekick lined up on the other side of the line to keep defenses from stacking corners on the star. A few candidates emerged in the spring (Marquis Maze, Mike McCoy) but the question was not completely answered.