Alabama Spring 2013 Practice Update: Defense

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

The team has separated for spring break with four practices under their belt. What can be learned--or guessed--about the 2013 defense from what has happened so far?

It would appear that Alabama's defensive roster has slimmed down a bit--although, not, to tell the truth, in a way that really upsets many folks' depth-chart calculations. Chris Bonds, Jonathan Atchison and William Ming have not appeared at spring practice and are not on the new roster. I'd say that bodes poorly for their future with the Tide. None of the three has ever lettered. Bonds and Atchison would've been fifth-year seniors, Ming a 4th-year junior.

Xzavier Dickson has rotated positions regularly, practicing with defensive ends, linebackers, defensive ends, and linebackers, respectively, over the four practices. The regular switches make it appear very much as if there's a firm plan to play him at both positions. I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't start at either position, but as one of the Tide's most experienced front 4 returnees you would figure he will get a fair bit of time overall. Dickson looks a little beefier than his 2012 playing weight, so it's also possible that he will wind up exclusively at defensive end if Ryan Anderson and/or Jonathan Allen wind up filling the need for depth at jack.

Whether Dickson stays in the two-deep at jack may be up for grabs, but the defensive line two-deep looks pretty set for now with Jeoffrey Pagan, Brandon Ivory and Ed Stinson starting, and Dixon, LaMichael Fanning, and Darren Lake on the second unit. Dalvin Tomlinson is making a bid to see time in pass-rush situations. "Set for now" is the watchword, though, with Saban's most-heralded defensive line class at Bama set to arrive this summer. Although defensive line is not one of the easier spots for a true freshman to make an impact, Allen, Dee Liner and A'Shawn Robinson will all get serious looks.

Speaking of serious looks, Anderson is getting one at jack and may push Denzel Devall and Dickson for time at the position. I wouldn't expect the pre-BCSNCG discipline meted out on Anderson to impact his chance to win his shot on the field if he plays well enough to deserve it, as there have been plenty of chances since January for significant behind-the-scenes chastisement. A chance to earn playing time with a turn-around should be a good incentive for a guy to straighten up his act.

At linebacker, C.J. Mosley is still in black, leaving only three scholarshipped inside 'backers participating in spring drills. With Trey DePriest seemingly ensconced at one inside spot, Reggie Ragland and Tana Patrick are the only scholarshipped inside linebackers on hand to battle for the spot Mosley's absence leaves open. This is the last chance for the former blue-chipper Patrick to shine; he probably needs to make his mark before Reuben Foster arrives in the summer if he's ever going to make it at all.

Most of the competition, though, is at defensive back. Little was settled coming into the spring, and between all the new players thrown into the mix and strong competition arriving from guys like Jarrick Williams and Bradley Sylve that were perhaps not the most expected, it's probably safe to say that even less is settled now.

Although early reviews on convertees Dee Hart and Cyrus Jones are good, the two are still well behind the experienced returnees and also, apparently, last year's convertee Sylve. Of note, though, Saban has had quite a few on-field conversations with Jones during the first four practices. That may not sound good, but based on past precedent it is actually an excellent portent for Cyrus' future in the defensive backfield. The head coach seems to find one defensive back to pick on during practice every year, and he doesn't waste his time concentrating on guys without much of a future on the field. Among those who have gotten similar treatment in the past were Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick and Geno Smith.

John Fulton is said to be looking healthier by the day, opening the possibility the 4th-year senior could be drilling with his teammates after spring break. His surgery was two months before Kevin Norwood's. Meanwhile, Deion Belue was wearing some sort of hamstring harness on his right leg Friday, but appeared to be moving normally and did not wear a black shirt. Hart is likely to remain in black throughout the spring.

Vinnie Sunseri looks to be slightly slimmer, although still no beanpole. I would think that bodes well for his chances to compete at safety in 2013, as speed and acceleration are clearly what Sunseri needs. A fleeter Sunseri could make it a battle royale with Williams and pre-spring favorites Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Landon Collins. If anybody has a job locked up at safety it is Clinton-Dix, but I'm not sure anybody does. Although I don't expect it, I wouldn't be shocked if we see 4 safeties in the dime set this year.

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