TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama opened spring practice trying to replace three stars who left early for the NFL and quarterback Greg McElroy while also dealing with off-the-field issues involving two safeties.
The Crimson Tide held its first practice Monday, a day after the arrest of All-American and team captain Mark Barron on a misdemeanor charge of hindering prosecution.
Coach Nick Saban said Barron “used poor judgment” in trying to protect someone else.
“I think Mark learned that he did not use good judgment in this case, in not saying what he could have said to help the police,” Saban said.
Robby Green, who missed last season on NCAA suspension for unspecified issues, is now suspended for violating team rules. Saban said any disciplinary action taken against both players will be handled internally and not made public.
The Tide has plenty of on-the-field issues to tend to this spring after a season that was a letdown for fans expecting a repeat national title, despite a 10-3 record and dominating Capital One Bowl win over Michigan State.
Alabama has eight newcomers already enrolled for spring, including highly regarded running back Dee Hart, offensive lineman Aaron Douglas and defensive lineman Jesse Williams — all positions where there is room for immediate help.
Barron, meanwhile, was among the players working in a black, non-contact jersey Monday after undergoing surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle sustained in the Auburn game.
Gone are Heisman Trophy winning tailback Mark Ingram, defensive end Marcell Dareus and wide receiver Julio Jones — all projected as first-rounders in the NFL draft.
Plus, McElroy departed after leading Alabama to a national title and 24 wins in two seasons as a starter. The players vying to replace him were much more highly touted recruits but have had little or no chance to prove themselves on the field.
Sophomore A.J. McCarron was already the top backup by the national championship game two years ago, though he wasn’t needed and received a redshirt. He completed 30 of 48 passes for 389 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions last season.
Redshirt freshman Phillip Sims was rated the nation’s top quarterback prospect by two recruiting services last year. Signee Phillip Ely has enrolled early and is going through spring practice with the two returnees and Blake Sims, who could also wind up at running back or wide receiver.
“Any quarterback we’ve got can go start anywhere,” tailback Trent Richardson said. “A.J., Phillip Sims, Blake Sims, they can go do it. I believe that, they’ve just got to make everybody else believe it on the team.”
Saban said he wants to see the quarterbacks show they can command the offense and manage the game, two areas where McElroy excelled.
“Take what the defense gives you, and that’s how we’ll move the ball and be successful,” Saban said. “And that’s how we’ll function best as a team. When good plays are available, you’ll take them.
“But you can’t create them when they’re not there.”
McCarron’s biggest claim to fame last season was when Saban was caught on video slapping him on his rear end and giving him an earful as he came off the field after going deep instead of throwing to the open man against Mississippi State. It was what the coach smilingly called one of those “teaching moments.”
“A.J. wanted to try a fake field goal in one of the games last year after that incident in the Mississippi State game,” Saban said Monday. “So he said in practice, ’When are we going to run this? It’s a touchdown if we run it.’
“I said, ’OK, the first time we get in field goal range in this game, we’ll call it. But if it doesn’t work, it’s your butt so don’t come to the sidelines.’ And he threw up his hands and said, ’Look, I don’t want to be the lead story on SportsCenter with you again.’ That was the end of that.”