TUSCALOOSA | The first day of spring practice for the University of Alabama came with some new positions for several players, although UA coach Nick Saban wasn't prepared to describe any of the moves as permanent.
Most notably, three offensive players -- wide receivers Christion Jones and Cyrus Jones, and running back Dee Hart -- tried their hand in the defensive backfield Saturday. While Cyrus Jones and Hart practiced with the defense all day, however, Christion Jones split his time between the offense and defense.
Saban said he expects only one, or at most two, of the three to stay on the defensive side of the ball for good.
"I've been encouraged by all those guys. They're all really athletic. They've all played defensive back before, so it's not like they're lost. And I don't think there's any way that all those guys are going to end up on defense," Saban said. "Maybe one. Maybe two, if they both have roles. In some cases, those guys have been very productive offensive players so we don't really want to take away from that, especially Christion Jones, who has a lot of playing experience."
Hart, coming off the second knee surgery of his college career, wore a black non-contact jersey but was able to participate in individual drills with the other defensive backs. Another position experiment placed Jack linebacker Xzavier Dickson with the defensive ends. Dickson, who recorded a pair of sacks in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game against Georgia, wouldn't be the first Jack linebacker to make the move to defensive end in the Saban era. Ed Stinson, UA's most experienced returning defensive end, made a move from the Jack linebacker spot two years ago that became a permanent one.
"We're looking to see if any of those guys can help us, and if this would be a better circumstance for how much they would be able to contribute to our team," Saban said. "The first thing you've got to do to determine that is, 'Can the guy do it? Does he have the physical attributes to be able to do it, and help you in some role'."
The Alabama player making perhaps the toughest transition this spring is safety Jai Miller, who is a 28-year-old freshman who spent a decade in the pro baseball ranks before deciding to resume his football career. Miller, of Selma, briefly reached the Major Leagues. But SEC football is a challenge all its own.
"I think anytime you're off for awhile, it takes a little bit of time to transition back into it. But I've been encouraged by his athleticism and his size. He's a bright guy. He does learn," Saban said. "I saw him make a tremendous amount of improvement on the field today. Everything it new to him, every technique is new to him. I'm sure things are running a little bit together for him on the first day but I'm encouraged by how he might be able to help us."
Miller's baseball career was highlighted by 68 major league at bats with the Florida Marlins, Kansas City Royals and Oakland Athletics, but the outfielder decided to give up baseball for football after batting under .200 last year in each of two minor-league assignments at the Double-A and Triple-A level.
Fulton, Norwood out
Cornerback John Fulton and wide receiver Kevin Norwood both had offseason surgery to repair turf toe injuries, and were on stationary bikes at practice Saturday. Saban said Norwood would miss all of spring drills, and that Fulton almost certainly would as well.
"Both guys will be OK in the summer and fall," Saban said.
Saban wishes Moore well
Saban said he spoke to UA Director of Athletics Mal Moore Wednesday, not long before the Crimson Tide's top athletic administrator went to Duke University Medical Center with a pulmonary condition.
"Our thoughts and prayers are obviousy with Mal and his family. I don't think it would be right for me to make any kind of assumption about diagnosis, because I still think that's in the testing stages," Saban said. "... I know Mal's in good spirits."
"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." - Linebacker C.J. Mosley on the offseason progress of running back Derrick Henry, an early-enrolling freshman who is participating in spring drills.
"When I got here I probably couldn't squat 225. Seriously. To do 600 with (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." - AJ McCarron on a brief video he published on social media of him squatting 600 pounds with help from three spotters.
Mosley is being withheld from contact to begin spring drills after having his right shoulder scoped. "It's just a clean-up. I played through it the whole season so it got banged up," he said. Mosley said he hopes to be able to practicing with full contact by the end of the spring. ... Other players being withheld from contact at the beginning of spring include receiver DeAndrew White and running back Jalston Fowler, both of whom are still recovering from knee injuries. Both were able to participate in individual drills. ... UA kicker Adam Griffith will compete with veteran Cade Foster for the kicking job this spring after the graduation of Jeremy Shelley, who shared time with Foster last season. "He's certainly showed that he has that potential and there certainly is an opportunity that is created by Jeremy leaving," Saban said of Griffith. "... those guys will have a very good competition."
Reach Chase Goodbread at email@example.com or at 205-722-0196.
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