We're starting a new series today called "Spring shoes to fill." We'll be taking a look at one key player who must be replaced on each of the 14 teams in the SEC and how these teams will go about it this spring.
We're going to go in alphabetical order so that means that Alabama is up first. Coincidentally, Alabama starts up spring practice again today.
OUT: S Mark Barron: Why Barron and not Heisman finalist Trent Richardson? Well, for starters, Richardson's understudy, Eddie Lacy (turf toe), is out for the spring as he recovers from surgery. There are other running backs that will be completing this spring, but Lacy is the one who will get the bulk of the carries this fall. Plus, Alabama does just fine running the ball, regardless of who carries the rock. So, why not go with someone who was extremely valuable on the other side of the ball? Barron was arguably the top safety in all of college football last season. He was an All-American and an All-SEC performer after recording 68 tackles (including five for loss), intercepting two passes and defending seven in 2011. Barron was physical enough to play the run and instinctive enough to take away the deep ball. Barron could play all over the field for the Crimson Tide, so replacing him on the field won't be easy. Linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower got most of the credit and attention on defense, but Barron might have been Alabama's best defender for most of the season. It also won't be easy to replace his leadership skills inside the locker room, either so this will be quite the job in 2012.
IN: Ha'Sean (Ha Ha) Clinton-Dix, Nick Perry, Vinnie Sunseri or Jarrick Williams: This one should be fun to watch this spring. Clinton-Dix is the one everyone is excited about in Tuscaloosa. He was one of the top prospects coming out of the 2011 class and was a real high-flyer in the secondary in high school. The coaches are excited about what Clinton-Dix can do when it comes to playing the pass and the run, so he'll certainly have the chance to take over Barron's spot. Sunseri is someone who will also have a shot. He got some time last year when Barron was injured and has played with fellow safety Robert Lester before. That will really go a long way when it comes to knowing plays and where each other is on the field. Familiarity is a plus. Sunseri proved his worth when he was on the field last season and he does have more experience than Clinton-Dix. Perry and Williams are both juniors, but played sparingly in 2011. Neither registered eye-popping stats, but have been around the program and the defense a while. You certainly can't count either out. Regardless of which player takes Barron's spot, he will greatly benefit from having Lester by his side.