TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones opened Alabama’s spring practice at a new position -- one of many new looks for the defending national champions next season.
Coach Nick Saban stressed Friday that it’s a new team with several job openings. Alabama lost a group of stars that includes at least four projected first-round NFL draft picks.
“We obviously have a lot of opportunities for a lot of people out there,” Saban said, adding that spring is the best time to move up the depth chart. “I think it’s really important that we as a team understand that this is not the team that won the national championship.
“It’s very, very important that this team dedicates itself and commits itself to creating an identity of its own. You’ve never arrived, so you certainly can’t feel satisfied or feel entitled.”
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Jones lined up at center instead of left tackle when the Crimson Tide opened with a single practice before spring break, a precursor to how the coaches hope the line will look next season.
With Jones’ move, sophomore Cyrus Kouandjio gets a chance to take over at left tackle, where he saw considerable action as a freshman before a season-ending knee injury against Tennessee.
“We thought he was a starter last year,” Saban said. “Obviously, he’s a freshman, but he made tremendous progress. Obviously, his injury set him back a little bit, but he’s worked very hard and made a good recovery.
“We think he can be a very, very good player. There’s no experiment involved in Barrett playing center. That experiment was all done last year. He got a lot of reps and played some in games. I don’t think there’s any question about the fact he’ll do a really good job.”
Jones played every position on the line last season except right guard, where he started 25 games the previous two seasons.
Now, the unanimous All-American is set to make a much bigger trip than two spots over on the line. He is headed soon to Nicaragua for his annual spring break mission trip.
Tight end Michael Williams said it wasn’t weird to see Jones switch positions after winning the Outland Trophy as the nation’s best interior lineman at his former spot.
“Barrett’s a genius, almost,” Williams said. “He can play all five front line positions. For Barrett, it’s probably an easier transition than it is for most people.”
Other players getting looks at other positions include starting defensive end Jesse Williams at nose guard and redshirt freshman running back Brent Calloway at linebacker.
The Tide also has eight newcomers who enrolled in January and are going through spring practice.
Saban praised junior college transfer cornerback Deion Blue and said other newcomers have chances at early playing time, too. The group includes five-star tailback T.J. Yeldon, who is in line to get more spring carries with Trent Richardson’s heir apparent, Eddie Lacy, sitting out after having surgery for turf toe.
Three starters are gone in the secondary and at linebacker.
Now, the veterans are trying to avoid a letdown after their latest national title. The Tide followed the 2009 title with a 10-3 season after coming in with a No. 1 ranking.
“Going through what we did in 2010, that was our mind-set. We still were riding off the ’09 year,” linebacker Nico Johnson said. “That’s one mind-set the leaders have got on this team is we don’t want that to happen again. That’s what we’ve got to roll with. I think coach established that at the meeting today, that we don’t want that to happen. We can’t let that happen.
“That’s one thing we’ve got to work for every day.”