TUSCALOOSA _ Even though the University of Alabama football team hasn't even put on the pads yet, the coaching staff was doing a lot of mix-and-matching during Monday's practice, the second of the spring.
Nowhere was it more evident than in the secondary, where Nick Saban was hands-on alongside assistant coach Jeremy Pruitt and new general assistant Derrick Ansley. Players were frequently changing spots with each snap and the coaches were examining different combinations.
For example, on one play B.J. Scott was lined up as an outside cornerback, the next he was opposite the slot receiver. True freshmen John Fulton and DeMarcus Milliner were also heavily involved, but Dre Kirkpatrick did not appear to be at practice.
"Going against those guys, obviously being veterans as they were so savvy when it came to playing the game," quarterback Greg McElroy said. "As far as talent is concerned we have such talent, both the new guys and the guys who have been year a year or two. They're playing great, everybody's doing a great job.
"They're really making it difficult for us on the offense."
Alabama has to replace not only three of the four traditional starters (cornerbacks Javier Arenas and Kareem Jackson, and safety Justin Woodall) but possibly all four backups as well.
"Coach Saban is as good as there is when it comes to being a secondary coach," McElroy said. "He'll have those guys ready and they're really practicing hard and giving great effort. There's a lot of competition and they're really stepping up to the challenge."
Michael Bowman and Brandon Gibson worked with the receivers during individual drills when reporters were allowed to observe. For now, Gibson is splitting time between the receivers and defensive backs, while Bowman was limited during the first spring practice by an abdominal pull. After being limited by a stress fracture, Earl Alexander practiced with the wide receivers.
Starting center William Vlachos will likely miss all of spring after having foot surgery. Milton Talbert was still in black, signaling no contact.
McElroy said the cracked ribs he played with in the BCS National Championship Game didn't fully heal until early March.
"I feel good," he said. "Those ribs were a tough deal. It's good to feel normal again."
Due to the weather, Alabama practiced inside the Hank Crisp Facility, in shorts and helmets. "Usually coming back from spring break is a pretty tough day with the offense and throwing around" McElroy said. "It's just difficult because you've been away from each other for 10 days and we just kind of picked up where we left off."
Safety Robby Green returned to practice after being excused from the first spring practice for personal reasons. There's no update regarding his eligibility status, nor any timetable regarding any potential resolution.
Dont'a Hightower on defensive coordinator Kirby Smart coaching the interior linebackers: "He works with us great. Last year was a little bit more about our linemen and blitzes, this year is a little more about coverages and knowing what the whole defense does. That makes your whole defense a lot better."
On hand during practice were former players Arenas and Roy Upchurch.
Alabama returns to practice Wednesday.