The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Sports

March 20, 2014

As usual, Alabama tasked with replacing big stars

— TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — It has become an annual rite of spring for coach Nick Saban and Alabama's football team.

Backups are vying to replace not just starters but All-Americans and NFL-caliber talent who left enduring legacies and big voids. Same as last spring, and the one before that.

"It's the Bama Way," Tide center Ryan Kelly, who replaced 2011 Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones last season, said Wednesday night. "We always say it that way, get back to what we do. No matter who is getting that spot, there's still a standard to uphold. It's pressure-filled. You can call it what you want, but if you're in there you know you've got to produce for the 10 guys around you, whoever that may be."

It's just a fact of life for a team with 11 first-round draft picks over the past three years and a high turnover rate since many of those have left after their junior seasons.

Now, the Tide is seeking replacements for the likes of Butkus Award-winning linebacker C.J. Mosley and quarterback AJ McCarron, the Heisman Trophy runner-up. Mosley, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio are all projected as potential first-rounders.

The battles to fill those spots, and replace other departed starters, have just begun in spring practice.

At quarterback, the competition almost certainly will extend into preseason camp since Florida State transfer Jake Coker won't enter the competition until this summer.

Good thing Alabama has that string of No. 1 recruiting classes to draw from.

Talent notwithstanding, Saban said it makes a big difference when players readily adapt to and embrace their new roles.

"Some guys make a huge improvement when they feel like their role's going to increase and they're going to have a better opportunity to play," Saban said. "They become more conscientious, pay attention to detail. Sometimes you're a little amazed at when somebody does get an opportunity, they take advantage of it.

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