Alabama will hold its first spring practice in less than two weeks on March 20, which will be the first of 14 practices leading up to April 22’s A-Day Game at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Before the Crimson Tide returns to the field, let’s take a look at some of the team’s top position battles.
First up, we break down the offense.
We are not wasting any time in getting to what is sure to be the most discussed, and debated, position battle of the offseason – and not just in Tuscaloosa but the entire country. With Bryce Young turning pro after the 2022 season, Alabama will have a new starting quarterback for the first time since Young replaced Mac Jones two years ago, and the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner leaves behind big shoes to fill, both in his play on the field and his impact off it.
The Crimson Tide will have four scholarship quarterbacks on campus for spring practice, but the top two options were on the roster a year ago in redshirt sophomore Jalen Milroe and redshirt freshman Ty Simpson. Milroe played in eight games in 2022 and filled in for Young when he hurt his shoulder at Arkansas in Week 5. He completed 58.5 percent of his throws for 297 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions, but his strength, thus far, is his ability to make plays with his legs. Milroe led the team with an 8.55 yards per carry average on 31 runs.
Milroe is the most experienced quarterback on the roster, but Simpson, while still only one year removed from being a 5-star recruit, now has a full year in the program. He didn’t get as many opportunities as his older teammate this past season, but he is a talented player that received rave reviews from the players departing the program for the NFL draft. Simpson will be referred to as the better passer of the two when contrasting these two but can also make plays with his feet, making for what is sure to be an intriguing battle this spring and summer.
“That’s gonna be a great competition,” said safety Jordan Battle last week. “Just the fire and the energy those guys have, both of them love the game of football, you can tell. Jalen Milroe is a very faithful guy. He was my guy. He’s actually one of my little brothers, I call him. Him and Terrion Arnold were my guys when I was there. I love the progress that Jalen has made.
“I love the progress that Ty has made. Ty was giving us amazing looks last year in scout, and I feel like he has a great future ahead of him, as well.”
Quarterback will garner a lot of attention, and rightfully so, but what happens on the offensive line will be equally interesting. Alabama welcomes back right tackle JC Latham, who started all 13 games in 2022, both of its starting centers from the last two years in Darrian Dalcourt and Seth McLaughlin and a second-year player in Tyler Booker, who received first-team reps at both guard positions for a large chunk of the season and made his first start in the bowl game. He is expected to continue to fill a starting role, as is Latham, an All-American candidate.
What happens at center will be fascinating with Dalcourt choosing to use a COVID season and come back. He started the first four games of the 2022 campaign and made a fifth start against Mississippi State, but McLaughlin started the other eight games. The reason Dalcourt has been sidelined over the last two years is injuries, but if healthy this spring, he should once again push for playing time with the ones. That being said, McLaughlin has proved worthy of the starting role and is coming off a season where he spent the most time with the first unit.
Could one of them move to guard this spring? It’s possible, especially if it is just to experiment with the best five options up front, and UA has two openings to fill – one at guard and one at tackle. But there are others that will look to crack the starting group, including returners like Terrence Ferguson and Jaeden Roberts and maybe even a newcomer like Kadyn Proctor, a 5-star early enrollee. Proctor could also get a look at tackle, which has an opening, but Elijah Pritchett could prove to be tough to beat after ending the year as the second left tackle.
Alabama’s top tight end the last two seasons, Cameron Latu, turned pro after the Sugar Bowl, and Kendall Randolph, a pseudo-tight end the last few years, exhausted his eligibility. So the Tide will need players in the tight end room to step up as blockers and receivers. Returning from the 2022 team are Robbie Ouzts, Miles Kitselman, Amari Niblack, Danny Lewis and Elijah Brown, and Ouzts, Kitselman and Niblack all caught passes a season ago, albeit seven for the trio. Ouzts and Niblack lead the pack in terms of possible increased roles in 2023.
Jahmyr Gibbs, the team’s leader in rushing and all-purpose yards in his lone season with the program, will be one of the first running backs off the board in next month’s NFL draft. Another back in Trey Sanders entered the transfer portal and ended up at TCU. Even with a couple of departures, though, Alabama’s running back room doesn’t have a lot of questions ahead of the 2023 season other than how the carries will be divided up. There is still plenty of talent.
Jase McClellan and Roydell Williams are both entering their senior seasons, and the former is coming off a 100-plus carry campaign in 2022. McClellan, now a year and a half removed from an ACL injury, is likely to step into the No. 1 running back spot, but Williams will push for it, too. So will Jam Miller, who showed some promise as a true freshman this past year. Speaking of promising, the Crimson Tide signed two elite backs, with Justice Haynes on campus for spring practice. He will make things interesting for his new teammates in a deep backfield.
“I love Jase,” said Gibbs at the NFL Combine. “He puts in the work every day, a hard worker. He knows his stuff, too. A very great blocker, a very great runner. He’s made a lot of explosive plays since he’s been at Alabama. He’s made a lot of key plays for our team when we needed him the most. I think he’s gonna do a great job, him and Roydell and all the other backs.”
The Tide returns its top two wide receivers with Ja’Corey Brooks and Jermaine Burton coming back for their junior and senior years, respectively. Those two will be leading drills when practice begins this spring and, barring something unforeseen, will be in the starting lineup for the first game against Middle Tennessee. But with players like Traeshon Holden and JoJo Earle moving on to other schools, there are opportunities for some of the younger guys to thrive.
We saw three freshmen do just that in 2022 with Isaiah Bond, Kendrick Law and Kobe Prentice all seeing first-team reps. With a third starting spot to fill, one of these three could do it. Prentice was a starter to open the regular season, while Bond was the third wideout to cap the year in the bowl game. Returning players like Emmanuel Henderson, Shazz Preston and even program veteran Thaiu Jones-Bell could also push for more playing time this offseason.
Alabama also added four players to its receiving corps via the 2023 cycle in freshmen Jalen Hale, Jaren Hamilton and Cole Adams and junior college transfer Malik Benson. Benson was turning heads in bowl prep when he joined the team before its postseason matchup in New Orleans, and if he continues that, he could be the third starter. Whoever it proves to be, the Tide has stockpiled young talent that could join Brooks and Burton on the first team.
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