TUSCALOOSA _ University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban had a bit of surprise waiting for reporters when he let them into part of Friday's practice, the first of spring.
Not only was linebacker Dont'a Hightower, who sustained a season-ending knee injury against Arkansas last September, on the field, but in uniform.
"He'll practice every day like everyone else practices. I'm sure by the time we get to the first scrimmage if it was a game he could play in it, which I think he could play in a game right now," Saban said. "He's been cleared to do everything medically, but it's what we're going to do when it comes to the scrimmages, that's the only question we have."
However, Hightower was limited Friday due to a strained calf sustained during the offseason conditioning program. He should be fully recovered when the Crimson Tide resumes practices March 22.
"There things usually don't get better unless you have some time off," Saban added.
Hightower sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament, medial collateral ligament and meniscus, known in orthopedic circles as the "unhappy triad," on a low hit by Arkansas guard Mitch Petrus.
"I pretty much have a brand new knee," Hightower told reporters in October.
He finished the season with 16 tackles, four for a loss and one sack, giving him 80 career tackles, 6.5 for a loss.
Other injuries: Michael Bowman was limited by an abdominal pull and Earl Alexander by a stress fracture.
Starting center William Vlachos will likely miss all of spring after having foot surgery. Milton Talbert was also in black, signaling no contact.
Running back Jeramie Griffin and defensive end Damion Square, who both sustained knee injuries last fall, both practiced.
Grant, Sikes leave team: Saban announced that running back Terry Grant and wide receiver Travis Sikes have left the team.
"He decided because of injuries, he's already graduated, that he would not come back," Saban said about Grant. "He does qualify for a medical."
Sikes, who had numerous injury issues, was also in his fifth year and already has his degree.
Grant played in eight games last season, with 40 carries for 166 yards, and also had eight kick returns for 166 yards. He's best known for his freshman season when on the first offensive play of the Saban era at Alabama went around the right side and scored a 47-yard touchdown against Western Carolina.
He started 13 games in 2007, with 180 carries for 891 yards and eight rushing touchdowns, all freshmen school records.
Sikes played briefly against Chattanooga last season, and five games during the 2007 season.
No spring depth chart: Saban did his usual cautioning that there's no depth chart during the spring, and not to read too much into where players line up.
"When we do two-spot drills we have ones and threes on one field, and twos and fours on another field," he said. "We put guys on teams relative to where they're going to get the most reps."
A good example was at cornerback, where Dre Kirkpatrick was paired with B.J. Scott; Phelon Jones was working with Kyle Pennington; and the true freshmen Demarcus Milliner (wearing No. 28) and John Fulton (No. 10) were together.
Some other players were working in interesting places:
Offensive line, from left to right, was James Carpenter, John Michael Boswell, David Ross, Barrett Jones and Alfred McCullough. The second unit was Tyler Love, Anthony Steen, Brian Motley, Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker. True freshman Chad Lindsay was the third-unit center (No. 78).
Nose tackle went Josh Chapman, Kelly Murphy, Nick Gentry and Brandon Moore (No. 97). The ends were Luther Davis and Marcell Dareus; Darrington Sentimore and Damion Square; Brandon Lewis (No. 95) and Unda Billingsley; Chris Bonds and William Ming. Antony Orr was wearing No. 60.
For the linebackers, Chris Jordan was the middle linebacker and Tana Patrick was the weakside linebacker, but that may have been so Nico Johnson can work with Hightower when he returns. The outside linebackers were Jerrell Harris and Courtney Upshaw.
At safety, Robert Lester was paired with Mark Barron.
Saban on former linebacker Rolando McClain dealing with Crohn's Disease: "I think our medical staff did a great job. I think Ro did a great job too. That's something that never really affected him as a player. It never affected him in practice. Ro had a lot of discipline and understanding in how to manage that by himself and did a really good job of it. It was never really an issue or a problem."
Safety Robby Green is allowed to practice, but his eligibility status remains in doubt. He was excused Friday for personal reasons and is expected back March 22.
Barrett Jones said he's willing to switch to left guard if the coaches want, but has only been working at right guard. "You never know." he said.
Quarterback Phillip Sims was sporting No. 14.