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Bama opens spring practice after rough offseason

Saturday - 3/16/2013, 8:28pm  ET

Alabama head coach Nick Saban, right, works with defensive backs during spring NCAA college football practice, Saturday, March 16, 2013, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/AL.com, Vasha Hunt) MAGS OUT

JOHN ZENOR
AP Sports Writer

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) -- Nick Saban said some Alabama players didn't start out handling the prosperity of a second straight national championship particularly well.

Some cut classes and, more visibly, four players were arrested and ultimately dismissed from school. Saban said things got considerably better once the offseason conditioning program started.

"I'd say until we got into the offseason program and sort of got a handle on things, that we did not respond as well as we would like with this group," the Crimson Tide coach said Saturday after the team's first spring practice.

"I think they've made a tremendous amount of improvement. I think we had more guys missing class, more issues. This was the first behavioral issue we've had with the guys that got in trouble in 5 1/2 years.

"Just a lot of little loose-ended things that when guys have entitlement, you see a little slippage."

The biggest "slippage" came when defensive back Eddie Williams and linebackers D.J. Pettway and Tyler Hayes were arrested and charged with robbing two fellow students.

Those players and H-back Brent Calloway -- who was charged with using a stolen debit card -- were kicked out of school.

The players addressed the issues in a team meeting.

"We all had a meeting and basically told everybody that's not the way we do things," linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "It's good that we're back in football because we don't have all of that off time we've been having. We just have to focus on football and going to school. That's when the family and leadership part of things start to set in."

Quarterback AJ McCarron figures to have an even bigger leadership role with the departure of three All-American offensive lineman and tailback Eddie Lacy. He said it comes down to accountability.

"You just have to be accountable for your job on and off the field," McCarron said. "We're getting an education at the same time, to do the right things not only because we represent this team and this university, but our last name, our families. We're not here to make anybody look bad, so we have to be a man. You're on your own, you have to be held accountable."

On the field, there's plenty of questions to answer and spots to fill before the Tide can start aiming for a third straight national title and fourth in five years.

Alabama opened spring with eight January enrollees, three new coaches and three offensive players getting work at cornerback, including starting wide receiver Christion Jones. Plus, five starting offensive and defensive linemen are gone.

Saban said Jones split his time evenly between offense and defense in the first practice while receiver Cyrus Jones and tailback Dee Hart worked exclusively in the secondary.

Alabama must replace safety Robert Lester and cornerback Dee Milliner, a potential top 5 NFL draft pick, from a defensive backfield that was regarded as the weakest link on one of the nation's top defenses.

Xzavier Dickson also moved from outside linebacker to defensive line for the practice.

Saban emphasized that all the switches are experimental and he doesn't think all three players could stay at cornerback.

"I don't even know that we're looking to make permanent changes," he said. "I think we're looking to see if any of those guys could help us and whether and if this would be a better circumstance for them to be able to contribute to our team."

He said having more players familiar with a position can be "an insurance policy" in case of injuries during the season.

McCarron returns for his third season as starter after playing the final six games with three injured ribs. He said they "kept popping out of place," and that would happen with one when he threw.

He has set his offseason focus on getting stronger, even squatting 600 pounds for the first time.

"When I got here I probably couldn't squat 225. Seriously," McCarron said. "To do 600 with (strength coach Scott) Cochran shows what kind of strength coach he is and how much he's helped me in the weight room and made me work hard. It's paid off."

He'll still likely have another strong backfield led by sophomore T.J. Yeldon with a prominent new addition.

Freshman Derrick Henry, a 245-pound tailback who enrolled in January, could be in line to share the load with the departure of Lacy, the BCS championship game MVP, who replaced Cleveland Browns tailback Trent Richardson. He has already made an impression on teammates.

"We were talking about it on the sideline, me and a couple of the players, how Henry looked like a bigger version of Trent Richardson," Mosley said. "But you have to do what you have to do. So we've got to make him better and he's got to make us better. He came in and killed the first quarter program. So I'm excited to see what he's gonna do when we start our first scrimmage."


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