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Thursday, August 1, 2013
Alabama camp primer: Who to watch

By Alex Scarborough

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It's time. After months and months of waiting, the start of pre-season camp is finally upon us.

Alabama players report today and begin practicing under the direction of coach Nick Saban and the staff tomorrow. To get you ready for all the action, here's a piece-by-piece look at some areas and players to watch.

Making their move

Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix
Could Alabama defender Ha Ha Clinton-Dix become the Crimson Tide's next star?
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix: If there's a star in the making on this defense, it's Clinton-Dix. As Saban told College Football Live's Joe Tessitore, "He's got range, he's a very good tackler and he's a smart player, and that's really key for us." It took some time to learn the system, but three years in Clinton-Dix appears to be a guy capable of transforming into one of the best defensive backs in the SEC.

Geno Smith: A year after suffering through Saban's incessant scolding during practice, Smith is in a position to win the starting cornerback spot opposite Deion Belue thanks to his emergence late last season as a reliable nickelback. A talented, confident athlete with all the tools to do well at the position, Smith will have to fend off senior John Fulton to lock down the job.

O.J. Howard: It seems like it's only a matter of time before Howard makes an impact for the Tide. Starting tight end Brian Vogler said the former No. 2 tight end/H-back in the 2013 class "adds a whole new dimension to our offense." Though he'll likely start out at H-back, Howard should see the field plenty with his ability to get open and catch the football.

Alec Morris: He won't start and likely won't see the field in any meaningful capacity this season, but that doesn't make Morris any less important to Alabama's success. His impact, instead, will come a year from now when he's battling to replace AJ McCarron as the Tide's starting quarterback. The strong-armed, stout Texan has flashed ability. Now he must develop an understanding of the offense and create the trust with the staff.

Position battles

Right tackle: Austin Shepherd exited spring practice as the clear leader to replace D.J. Fluker. But before anyone crowns him the winner, Shepherd must first fend off Leon Brown. The junior college transfer only got his feet wet from January to April. With an offseason to prepare, he should come into fall camp better prepared to meet offensive line coach Mario Cristobal's expectations.

Safety: It's a three-man race that could drag into the season, and the good news for Tide fans is that all three are good options. Nick Perry and Vinnie Sunseri are both veterans of the defense and would likely rotate at safety opposite Clinton-Dix is the season were to begin today. But watch out for former five-star prospect Landon Collins, who should see the field plenty as a reserve and could make a move to start as the season progresses.

Slot receiver: Christion Jones did nothing to lose the job in 2012, finishing third on the team with 27 receptions totaling 364 yards and four touchdowns. But now that DeAndrew White, Kenny Bell and Chris Black are all healthy again, the position is up for grabs. The most intriguing prospect is Black, who drew rave reviews from coaches and players alike before missing all of last season with a shoulder injury.

Backup running back: Nearly every fan wants to see freshman phenom Derrick Henry win this job. The 6-foot-3, 238-pound athlete set the national high school record for career rushing yards. But his development will likely take some time, especially after missing the end of spring practice with a broken leg. Instead, look for Kenyan Drake to lead the charge. The speedy sophomore was arguably the most explosive back on the roster last season, averaging a healthy 6.7 yards per carry.

New faces to watch

Reuben Foster: His turbulent path to Alabama was well documented. Now that he's finally on campus and enrolled, he can put the past behind him. And now we finally get to see what type of athlete he is. At 6-1 and 244 pounds, he has the frame and the athleticism to do well at inside linebacker. Learning under a veteran like C.J. Mosley his first year should pay big dividends as well.

Maurice Smith: There's certainly a need at cornerback, and Smith is arguably the most talented incoming freshman at the position. The Texas native has the size (6-0, 180 pounds) to play near the line of scrimmage and the speed (4.51 40-yard dash) in coverage that Saban looks for at the position.

Grant Hill: Of all the newcomers veteran right guard Anthony Steen could have come up with, he focused on Hill. Steen said at SEC Media Days that the former No. 1 offensive guard prospect has impressed during summer workouts, showing better than expected strength and quickness.

Alvin Kamara: The backfield is obviously crowded, but Kamara is something the rest of the other running backs aren't -- unique. In a room full of bruisers and between-the-tackles runners, Kamara is the exception, a scat back type with the speed the get to the boundary and the hands to catch the ball in the open field. He'll have to show he can block and protect the football, but look for Kamara to be an option on third down when he develops his game.