Alabama spring wrap

2010 overall record: 10-3

2010 conference record: 5-3

Returning starters

Offense: 7; Defense: 9; Kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

RB Trent Richardson, OG Barrett Jones, C William Vlachos, OT D.J. Fluker, WR Marquis Maze, LB Courtney Upshaw, LB Dont’a Hightower, S Mark Barron

Key losses

QB Greg McElroy, RB Mark Ingram, OT James Carpenter, WR Julio Jones, TE Preston Dial, DE Marcell Dareus, LB Chavis Williams

2010 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Mark Ingram (875 yards)

Passing: Greg McElroy (2,987 yards)

Receiving: Julio Jones (1,133 yards)

Tackles: Mark Barron* (75)

Sacks: Courtney Upshaw* (7)

Interceptions: Robert Lester* (8)

Spring answers

1. Trent’s time: Mark Ingram is gone, so Alabama’s backfield belongs to junior Trent Richardson. While Ingram might have won a Heisman Trophy two years ago, there are some who feel Richardson might be a better all-around running back. He’s a step faster than Ingram and is one of the Tide’s strongest players, regardless of position. This spring, Richardson made it a point to not only improve his game on the field but became more of a leader. With Alabama breaking in a young quarterback this season, Richardson showed everyone that he felt comfortable putting the offense on his shoulders. Richardson is more than ready to be the feature back in the Tide’s offense.

2. Linebacker revival: Everyone knew how talented Alabama’s linebacker corps was in 2010, but there were times when the group showed its inexperience and looked confused. This spring, the linebackers appeared to be one of the strengths of the defense. Making things better for the Tide – and worse for opponents – is the health of Courtney Upshaw and Dont’a Hightower. Upshaw’s nagging ankle injury disappeared and Hightower seems to finally be back to 100 percent after suffering a serious knee injury in 2009. Nico Johnson and C.J. Mosely looked even better this spring and will get solid time in the middle when Hightower is on the outside. Vast improvements were made by Chris Jordan, and Jerrell Harris should get playing time as well this fall.

3. Receivers don’t miss a beat: If you haven’t figured it out by now, Julio Jones is gone. That evidence was made a harsh reality when the Atlanta Falcons drafted him in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft. Fortunately for the Tide, there is still some talent left at the wide receiver position. Seniors Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks had solid springs. Neither can fully replace Jones’s ability on the field, but each should be a formidable matchup for defenders. Fellow senior Brandon Gibson is looking to finally breakout on offense, while newcomers Kenny Bell and Keiwone Malone made strong impressions this spring. Alabama will add junior college transfer Duron Carter before fall camp.

Fall questions

1. Youth at quarterback: It’s not the worst situation for the Tide to be in because both contenders to direct the offense are talented. Sophomore A.J. McCarron and freshman Phillip Sims battled it out this spring, but neither took the edge heading into the offseason. Both showed they were talented enough to command the offense and pretty strong leadership skills. However, they're inexperienced. Sims redshirted last fall, while McCarron played sparingly. Talent is one thing, but no one is quite sure how each will respond when they line up against opposing SEC defenses away from Tuscaloosa.

2. Sore secondary: Alabama’s secondary suffered in 2010. Though Mark Barron and Robert Lester return, the Tide secondary had trouble staying healthy this spring. Barron, Jarrick Williams, Dre Kirkpatrick and Nick Perry all dealt with injuries. The coaches and players expect experience and maturity to fuel the secondary, but it’s hard to say how the unit will perform without seeing what it could do as a whole this spring. There’s no doubt this group is equipped with future NFL talent, but without going through most of spring drills, we’ll have to wait and see what happens when everything is live.

3. Putting it all together: I’m sure coach Nick Saban isn’t going to let the hype get to his football team this season. Last season, Alabama was expected to make back-to-back trips to the national title game, but three losses kept the team in sunny Florida during bowl season. This season, the expectations are greater, and the Tide’s veteran quarterback and Heisman-winning running back aren’t even around. Will this team be as good as advertised? This team still has to play LSU and Arkansas, who will be contending for the West title. Fortunately, Alabama gets both at home. Obviously, everyone in the SEC is gunning for the Tide, but will Alabama have enough stamina (mentally and physically) to hold up this time?