Alabama football: 5 questions that need to be answered as the Crimson Tide start spring practice

Brett Greenberg
The Tuscaloosa News

Alabama football begins spring practice Friday, coming off of winning last season's national championship.

The Crimson Tide will have 12 practices and two scrimmages at Bryant-Denny Stadium before the A-Day Game on April 17. Alabama will need all 15 days of work to welcome five new on-field coaching assistants and 15 mid-year enrollees. 

Alabama welcomes the No. 1-ranked class with seven five-stars, four of whom have been on campus since January. Offensive tackles JC Latham and Tommy Brockermeyer and defensive back Ga'Quincy McKinstry highlight coach Nick Saban's historic class.

The 2021 team will feature a new starting quarterback and running back, and UA will need to replace its two starting receivers and some positions on defense. 

Here are five questions the Crimson Tide needs to answer by the end of spring practice:

How will the new offensive coaches blend together?

The 2020 Crimson Tide featured the Heisman Trophy winner, Devonta Smith, and a record-breaking offense. Saban replaces offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian and offensive assistants Charles Huff and Kyle Flood with former NFL coaches Bill O'Brien and Doug Marrone. O'Brien will serve as offensive coordinator and Marrone will coach the offensive line. 

Saban also added former North Carolina running backs coach Robert Gillespie, who coached Alvin Kamara at Tennessee among 10 NFL running backs he has produced.

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Who will be the featured running back?

Jan 11, 2021; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Alabama running back Brian Robinson Jr. (4) runs the ball with Ohio State linebacker Dallas Gant (19) and Ohio State safety Josh Proctor (41) pursuing during the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby-USA TODAY Sports

The career rushing and touchdowns leader Najee Harris is gone. Senior Brian Robinson Jr. and sophomore Jace McClellan are the only two running backs who have been substantial producers for the Crimson Tide. 

Redshirt sophomore and 2019 No. 1 running back prospect Trey Sanders returns after a season-ending injury. 

One or more from that group are expected to inherit Harris' carries.

How will Bill O'Brien use Jahleel Billingsley?

The No. 11-ranked tight end in the 2019 class saw a huge jump in his production in the final seven games last season. He had caught one ball six weeks into the season before reeling in 17 more for 274 yards and three touchdowns to finish.

Billingsley also received kicks and punts in the final weeks of the season and was used in the slot and out wide. O'Brien must figure out a way to get the shifty tight end in space. 

Can Pete Golding continue to improve the defense?

The Crimson Tide ranked 32nd nationally in total defense in 2020. Alabama showed improvement from some of the previous season's breakdowns. Golding must replace All-America cornerback Patrick Surtain II and the leader of the defense, Dylan Moses. 

Returnees Jaylen Armour-Davis and Brandon Turnage and newcomer McKinstry look to pair alongside Josh Jobe to fill the corner position.

How will all the new faces on the offense mesh?

For four years, the offense had first-round NFL Draft picks at wide receiverand a pair of record-breaking quarterbacks. O'Brien must replace all this production with a new quarterback and find the Crimson Tide's second and third options at receiver.

Quarterbacks Bryce Young or Paul Tyson and the rest of the wide receivers will need to create the chemistry that has propelled the UA attack.