Alabama returned to practice Monday to go through its sixth practice of the spring and coach Nick Saban said afterward that he could tell that one side appears to be moving faster than the other.
But unlike most teams, Saban said it was the offense that has looked more composed during the early stages of spring practice.
"I think offensively we are a little bit ahead than we are on defense in terms that we have a few more experienced guys," Saban said. "We have a very experienced offensive line. I think AJ [McCarron] has had a really good spring far; he's done a nice job. I think Philip [Sims] is competing very well behind him, and working hard to push him and compete against him and with him. I think the receivers have made improvement, and we have some young guys that we need to continue to improve as well."
It isn't shocking that Alabama's offense is ahead of the game right now. The Crimson Tide returns six starters from last season's national championship team, including McCarron, who was named the offensive MVP of the Allstate BCS National Championship game. After much improvement during the second half of the 2011 season, McCarron ended the season third in the SEC in passing with 2,634 yards. He also passed for 16 touchdowns to only five interceptions. You could see McCarron getting more and more comfortable as last season went on, and now that he has a full season under his belt, McCarron should be in the running for the title as top passer in the SEC this fall.
It helps that four starters are back on the offensive line, and Alabama has some talented young receivers coming back and coming in. Trent Richardson is gone, but Alabama's run game should be fine with the depth it has. Eddie Lacy is out this spring, but Jalston Fowler, Dee Hart and TJ Yeldon are all getting reps and have impressed thus far.
As for the defense, Alabama must replace eight starters, including four -- Courtney Upshaw, Dont'a Hightower, Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick -- that could be drafted in the first round of April's NFL draft.
That's a pretty tall order, and there are going to be some mistakes and errors along the way. Better to get them out of the way this spring than during SEC play.
"Defensively we have a lot of new faces and a lot of new opportunities for guys," Saban said. "We are going to continue to work with those guys so that we can improve."
Auburn puts on the pads
Auburn's third practice was a little more physical on the Plains, as the Tigers put on the pads for the first time this spring.
While Auburn's players could hit a little harder Monday, coach Gene Chizik said the energy could have been better from his players. It improved as the day went on, but he could tell that his players were thinking a little too much on the practice field.
"The effort was good most of the day -- the physicality was OK at best," Chizik said. "It wasn't a problem; it's just something that needs to be brought to their attention to be better Wednesday."
"It's not that they don't want to do it; there are just a lot of thought processes going on. What we're looking for is, if you're going to make that mistake, make sure you make it playing a physical brand of football. The physicality of the game is the number one thing."
With two new coordinators, it should come as no surprise that the Tigers are struggling to pick up everything this early. It's going to take some time for the jargon to register enough with the players that they won't be slowed by the mental side when things are moving.
"We're trying to develop a physical mentality that we need," Chizik said, "but we're a ways off."
Quarterback Clint Moseley went through practice Monday, but he didn't throw because he has an inflamed rotator cuff. Moseley has been rehabbing and getting therapy on it three times a day. Moseley only took snaps, dropped back and performed handoffs Monday.