TUSCALOOSA _ It appears that University of Alabama sophomore walk-on Will Lowery will get the first shot at replacing junior Mark Barron at strong safety, with his only challenge from true freshman Nick Perry.
"Mark is one of our most productive players on our defensive team, he's certainly an All-American caliber type of player, a leader for us and has the most experience," Coach Nick Saban said.
"I'm not sure there's any other solution, and moving guys around where they haven't had reps at that position, a corner playing safety and that kind of stuff, I don't see where that's going to benefit (us), especially with the depth issues we have and B.J. Scott being out. We're sort of thin all the way around on the back end."
Article Continues Below
Barron, a first-team All-American, sustained a torn pectoral muscle against Auburn that required surgery.
Lowery played in 12 games this season with 30 tackles and two interceptions while Perry saw action in just three games and had one tackle.
Saban confirmed that junior safety Robby Green, who was suspended for the whole year, can't play in the bowl game and still has things he needs to do to be reinstated by the NCAA for next season. However, he can continue to practice.
Alabama held its first practice for the Capital One Bowl inside the Hank Crisp Facility due to lousy weather in the area. Judging by the mood of the players the coaches didn't go easy on them.
"You don't want to sit on your butt too long," junior defensive end Marcell Dareus said. "It's good to get back out there with your teammates."
The Tide will hold a two-a-day Friday with Saban missing the second workout to be the guest speaker for the Shrine Bowl banquet in Spartanburg, S.C.
In addition to Barron, freshman linebacker Jonathan Atchison (bicep) and Scott (ankle) have been ruled out of the Capital One Bowl after having surgery. All three were in black and working out on the sideline during Thursday's first bowl practice.
Atchison sustained his injury in the weight room.
Junior center William Vlachos missed practice due to being sick and is expected to be back within a couple of days.
Sophomore left guard Barrett Jones (ankle) and senior quarterback Greg McElroy (concussion) were back in their usual spots.
Although junior running back Mark Ingram said McElroy initially didn't know what had happened to him after being helped off the field against Auburn, the quarterback can now remember the play.
"Real scary moment for me," he said, but also recalls trying to go back in the game. "I was trying my hardest, but they hid my helmet."
Auburn loss still stings
Even though it's been two weeks since Alabama blew a 24-point lead against Auburn, the loss is still resonating with the team.
"It hurt, it hurt a lot," said sophomore linebacker Dont'a Hightower, who went back to Lewisburg, Tenn., last week after finishing his final exams. "Back home there isn't a lot to do except watch TV. The game came on a couple of times."
Ingram also couldn't help but watch, including his second-quarter fumble when while stumbling was caught from behind by defensive end Antoine Carter, who punched the ball loose.
"That stuff happens," Ingram said. "The guy made a great play. I was trying to make a play, trying to keep my balance. The ball was really tucked, it wasn't really out there. The guy just made a good play."
Judging by the look on his face, though, it's still bothering him.
"Quite frankly, we were four points away from possibly being in the national championship," McElroy said. "That's one thing you have to keep in mind. Sometimes the ball bounces your way and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes you just don't play well enough to win and we didn't."
Alabama isn't planning to do much experimentation with players in new spots during the bowl practices. Redshirt freshman Ed Stinson is still at defensive end, where he was moved from Jack linebacker near the end of the regular season.
Despite a report that Scott plans to transfer, he has not notified the coaching staff of his intention to leave.
Having received the paperwork, Saban was able to comment on the signing of junior college defensive lineman Quinton Dial: "He's a guy we recruited in high school. He's some potential to be a defensive lineman, which is an area we can use some big strong guys. We'll just have to see how he develops." Saban wasn't sure if Dial will be able to enroll in January.
Ingram enjoyed his return trip to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation. "It was fun, I got to relax and enjoy it," he said. "I remember it just like it was yesterday, being there. Everyone says time flies. It happened a year ago, it's kind of crazy." However, last year's winner still isn't disclosing his ballot: "I voted for ... who I thought was the best player."
With the Associated Press working on a feature about significant benefits coaches have written into their contracts, Saban was asked about the clause giving him personal use of the university jet (for which has to pay taxes). The coach said that the primary benefit was to save time, but flying to his house at Lake Burton, Ga., also gives him needed breaks from the grinds of coaching. "If we didn't go to the lake and I couldn't go to Rabun County and stand on the side of a hill, sit on a log and look down and think a little bit, I don't think I would survive much longer in this business. I need that ... and for your benefit (too)."