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Jumbo Package: Spring Practice has begun and the Tide have many unanswered questions

Look no further than the offensive line for early spring drama.

NCAA Football: SEC Championship-Alabama vs Florida
This is a unit that has to become more consistent even as it finds new starters.
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson's ceremonial graveyard now includes an Alabama tombstone | FOX Sports

The fabled Clemson graveyard added four new tombstones on Wednesday, including one that is sure to grab plenty of attention.

The tombstone for ‘Bama is big and black (#NoRayciss,) and as gaudy a fixture on the highway as that orange and purple monstrosity Clemson calls a uniform. As if Nick Saban needed any more motivation. Yeesh. How long do you think it took for Scott Cochran to hang pictures of Alabama’s black tombstone up in the weight room?

Why Alabama QB Jalen Hurts might be the next great signal-caller |

Remember the circumstances? Clemson had just taken a 28–24 lead thanks to a Wayne Gallman touchdown run. Alabama got the ball back on its own 32-yard line with 4:38 remaining. A true freshman quarterback, who had struggled for weeks to throw the ball with any accuracy, had to drive his team 68 yards for a touchdown. Against one of the most ferocious pass rushes in college football. With a playcaller who had been on the job for eight days. In the national title game.

And he did it.

Forget everything else about Jalen Hurts’s first season as Alabama’s quarterback and just think about that drive. When the Crimson Tide absolutely, positively needed a touchdown against a defense that had shut down the offense for most of the second half on the game’s biggest stage, Hurts delivered that touchdown. That drive ended with him sprinting 30 yards up the middle and into the end zone. And if almost anyone other than Watson had been the other quarterback, Alabama would have another national title.

Speaking of shoveling dirt, those quick to anoint Tua the next starter would be well-advised to heed the lesson of recent history: At the end of the day, he that can generate wins and get the offense to believe that he can do so, will claim the starting job. In two late-game pressure cookers on the road in Baton Rouge and Tampa, Hurts was asked to deliver a touchdown and he did so. His decision-making was never the issue: Hurts rarely was reckless with the passing game; it is his ability to see the field and see plays open up for him that will require the most coaching.

What we're watching as Alabama football begins spring practice |

Here is Casagrande’s video preview if you want to know what the Aye Ell beat writers are watching (hint: the same thing everyone else is.)

Five position battles to watch in Alabama spring practices

When Alabama opens the 2017 season it will likely do so with its fifth different starter at right guard since the 2016 lid lifter against USC. The Crimson Tide went through Pierschbacher, Lester Cotton (twice), Alphonse Taylor and Korren Kirven at the spot a season ago and also got some important snaps from Casher, who missed the final two games of the campaign with a broken foot.

All that at a position that saw Kennedy work extensively with the starters during 2016 spring drills. Can't say position coach Brent Key didn't exhaust nearly every option he had in a year in which guard play never became a strength for the Crimson Tide.

Even with inconsistency at guard, the Alabama offense posted Saban-era highs in rushing yards (3,675); rushes of 2o yards or longer (44); and 200-yard rushing performances (12). Strong numbers considering that UA worked three different starting guard combinations over the course of the season.

Center was another position that required some tinkering before finally settling on a successor to first-round pick Ryan Kelly. Just when it appeared as if Pierschbacher was in line to replace Kelly, the decision was made late in the preseason to go with Bozeman instead.

The offensive line, for my money, has the most questions and the most interesting positions battles to watch. Now that Coach Cristobal has moved on, will Alabama see a more coherent blocking scheme? Will the interior line find an elite grouping of three guys and stick with it? Can Alabama, after a few years of manball inconsistency, regain its historical form and dominate foes at the line of scrimmage? What will happen with the tackles? Are there bench players who can fend off sure challenges from incoming freshmen and Juco players ready to contribute? Will Lester Cotton ever put together the mental part of his game and be a dominating starter...esp. now that he’s in the post-DUI doghouse? Will Alabama see an exodus of transfers from the OL before Fall Camp like we saw in the secondary last season? Tons to watch here.


Here are five potential Cinderella teams for college football in 2017 -

However, Mississippi State has something many other unheralded SEC teams do not: a quarterback. And his name is Nick Fitzgerald. There was a lot of inconsistency in his game as a first-year starter in 2016 but also a lot of promise. My gut feeling is MSU is still a year away from a more realistic run out of the West. However, with home games against LSU and Alabama, Dan Mullen’s team might get a big win to show the signs are there.

It’s hard to argue with a Mississippi State dark horse pick. Nick Fitzgerald is a dynamic athlete, but what makes that engine hum is his ability in the running game. Fitzgerald has a strong arm, but not a very accurate one. Still that running ability is what makes Mullen’s passing game tick: It baits linebackers and safeties into covering the read option and then devastates them in coverage with screens and swings to the backs as well as zero-coverage on tall, fast outside receivers.

Tempo, balance are Auburn's focus - ESPN Video

Speaking of running da’ baw. Malzahn’s acquisition of Baylor’s Jared Stidham almost certainly means the Tigers are going to be up to their old* ways this year tempo-wise. Keep an eye on the increased speed of pace here.

Alabama wants top LSU commit Kelvin Joseph to flip and 'change the program' |

Joseph, the nation's No. 35 overall recruit, No. 5 cornerback and No. 2 prospect in Louisiana, has made multiple trips to Alabama, including to a Junior Day and to a camp last summer.

He said he has good relationships with the entire staff, including area recruiter Burton Burns, secondary coach Derrick Ansley and defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.

"Alabama, I like how they work," Joseph said Sunday at the New Orleans Opening Regional. "Every day, it's hard work, every time I visit. It's back to back championship (game appearances)

Alabama has been hot for 4-star corner Kelvin Joseph since Noah was playing admiral on Mt. Ararat. And, just as long, Joseph has been an LSU commit. This is one to watch and a possible flip to ‘Bama, especially given Alabama’s corner situation in the coming years.

That’s it for today. We have some gym and Women’s NIT coverage and, of course, more Spring Practice coverage as Brent looks at the cornerbacks.

*Cheating. I mean the Barn is cheating