Checking in on the Alabama Crimson Tide

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Just wanted to check in from the University of Alabama campus, where I've been visiting with coaches and players on Tuesday.

The Crimson Tide opened spring practice on Monday and will return to practice on Wednesday.

I'll have several updates and interviews with players over the next day or so, but I can tell you after chatting with Nick Saban that he likes the makeup of this team and likes the way it's gone about its business in the offseason.

"We've had a good offseason and we have question marks, but everybody has question marks going into spring practice," Saban said. "I think we'll be a little better this year on defense because of the added experience that we have, but we got better as last year went on."

Alabama is looking to replace the Big Three on offense -- quarterback Greg McElroy, running back Mark Ingram and receiver Julio Jones.

"What spring practice is all about to me is creating a standard of excellence, see how the team responds to that and what fork in the road they're going to take," Saban said. "We made too many mental errors last year defensively, and we weren't good enough offensively to overcome it.

"Correcting all that starts now."

While most eyes will be on the quarterback battle this spring between A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims, Saban said it's imperative that playmakers around those two guys emerge.

"Our issues this year are more on the offensive side of the ball," Saban said. "Even though there's enough there to work with, it's the critical positions -- quarterback, tailback and wideout. Those kind of guys change games.

"You can have the best offensive line, five first-round draft picks playing up front on the offensive line, and if you don't have some of those (skill) guys who can make plays, it's hard for those guys in the offensive line to dominate the game."

Saban said it's equally important that the Crimson Tide find a dynamic player in the return game. He said they really missed what Javier Arenas gave them two years ago.

"We were always a national threat to security when he was here on punt returns and kick returns," Saban said. "Finding a guy who can do that a little better will be important."

Thanks to a couple of new faces, Alabama should be able to throw some serious speed out there. Redshirt freshman Keiwone Malone and true freshman Dee Hart will get looks back there, and senior Marquis Maze was 16th in the country last season in punt return average.