College football never ends, and during the next few weeks teams will be getting ready for the 2013 season in their spring practice sessions. Here's a look at the Alabama Crimson Tide and what they'll be working on this spring.
Spring practice began: March 16
Spring game: April 20
2012 record: 12-1 (1st SEC West, won BCS Championship Game)
Returning starters: 12 (6 offense, 6 defense)
The Least You Should Know About Alabama This Spring
-- Focus is needed. When you're as loaded as Alabama's roster and your coaching staff is as proven as Alabama's, the questions surrounding a potential fourth national title in five years aren't so much "can they?" as "will they?" In 2010, the Crimson Tide were, by Nick Saban's own admission, a little too happy with their work the previous season and finished with three losses. Led by rock-solid seniors like Barrett Jones and Robert Lester, the 2012 Tide kept their nose to the grindstone and won a second straight crystal football. (Of course, that the 2012 defense had a good deal more experience than the 2010 version helped as well.)
With Jones, Lester, and several other key leaders gone, though, there's no guarantee the 2013 Tide will learn the lessons of those past two squads. Making sure they do is job No. 1 for Saban and his staff this spring.
-- The offensive line is rebuilding. Jones, Chance Warmack, and D.J. Fluker -- All-Americans, all three -- aren't the sort of linemen any college program can simply replace, even one as overflowing with blue-chips as Alabama. Oh, it'll help to have Cyrus Kouandjio manning the left tackle spot for the last season of his Tide career before declaring, and the overlooked Anthony Steen is back for his senior season at right guard. But the other three positions all have to be sorted out, and if there's already some promising candidates there, on paper there's also no five-star slam-dunk a la Koundjio or Fluker waiting in the wings, either. Spring will be crucial not only for settling on a depth chart, but for making sure those new starters are up to the championship-or-bust task.
-- Adrian Hubbard is looking to make the leap. Quiz time: After Courtney Upshaw's pulverizing performance in 2011, who led the Crimson Tide in both sacks (7) and tackles for loss (11) in 2012? The answer is Hubbard, the former Georgia prep hoops star-turned-outside linebacker who somehow flew under the radar (no All-SEC honors, even honorable mention) despite being the most productive penetrator on the nation's No. 1 defense. Still only a junior and still improving by leaps and bounds after committing fully to football, a good spring camp would position Hubbard as the Crimson Tide's next defensive superstar.
-- The early enrollees are intriguing. The Tide have welcomed a healthy seven new signees onto campus in time for spring practice, and three of them bear special watching: Derrick Henry, the five-star jumbo-sized running back who could immediately grab the Tide's short-yardage carries (or more); Cooper Bateman, the Utah quarterback who could find himself in the mix to back up AJ McCarron as soon as this fall; and most tantalizingly, five-star freak athlete tight end O.J. Howard, whose ability to stretch the field could add a devastating new wrinkle to a Tide offense that may have to rely more on its aerial game this year after the offensive line losses.
* For a given definition of "enjoy," of course, judging by this photo.