- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The University of Alabama renews its title defense Friday with the first practice of pre-season camp. The Crimson Tide will hit the Thomas-Drew Practice Fields for a double-dip, going at 9:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.
While we wait for the team to strap it up and get going, here are five things to watch as we inch toward Sept. 1 and kickoff against the Michigan Wolverines.
1. Full recovery: Is the "spin move back," as Michael Williams put it at SEC media days? Coach Nick Saban and players insist Eddie Lacy is ready to run again after missing all of the spring recovering from offseason surgery. If he is back at 100 percent, the Alabama backfield could be lethal with the addition. How Arie Kouandjio comes back is important as well, adding depth to an offensive line that's potent up front but lacking players to fill out the rotation.
2. Sorting out the secondary: There's no shortage of talent at defensive back, but the question is where it all fits. Dee Milliner and Deion Belue have a shot to be the top cornerbacks, and Robert Lester is a lock at one of the safety spots. The rest, though, is unclear. Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri will battle for the second safety spot, and it looks as if Sunseri will move around the secondary a bit, playing star and money. Players like Landon Collins, John Fulton and Travell Dixon will fight for a spot in the secondary as well.
3. Same faces, new places: The rest of the country is confident in Barrett Jones and Jesse Williams, and there's little reason not to be. But the fact remains that both players will be starting at new positions this fall. Williams might have the easiest go of it at nose tackle, but he'll have to adjust to taking on more blockers. Jones' transition to center will be a focal point of the pre-season. He's said learning to snap the ball has been the most difficult and he'll also take on more responsibility in calling out protections. The relationship developed between he and AJ McCarron will be key.
4. Offensive upgrades: Doug Nussmeier continues to work on the offense, and he'll have his hands full with a slew of new weapons. Kenny Bell, Kevin Norwood, DeAndrew White and Christion Jones are taking over greater roles on the outside, and newcomers Amari Cooper, Chris Black and Eddie Williams all figure to play a role this coming season. With four of the team's top pass-catchers from a season ago gone, it's up to the new crop of receivers to step up. Don't forget Michael Williams, who is looking for a big senior year with Brad Smelley off to the NFL.
5. Staying hungry: Up to this point, players have said all the right things. Last year is over and 2010 won't happen again, they've said. But in the final month before kickoff, those words will be proved out as battles heat up and the players' hunger for another title is put to the test.
2dEdward Aschoff and Alex Scarborough
2dAlex Scarborough and Greg Ostendorf