Alabama takes field after rough offseason

Barrett Jones is reminded of his lost teammate sometimes when he

sees the empty locker that once belonged to Aaron Douglas. Alabama

players need only drive a short distance from campus to see the

wreckage from a deadly tornado that struck the town and surrounding

communities in the spring.

With those incidents as the sobering backdrops, Alabama opened

preseason practice Friday to start preparation for a season they’re

hoping will be special – for more than the standard reasons.

“I think it takes a little bit of the selfishness out of

football,” center William Vlachos said. “It’s easy to say, Man I’m

hot or I’m tired or I’m sore or I don’t want to be here and I just

want to go home. But you’ve got to realize what you’re playing for.

You’re playing for a lot more than yourself. Really, you’re playing

for a lot more than just your teammates. There’s a lot of people

who care about this football team and this town. It’s something I’m

certainly conscious of. I think others are as well.

“It’s something that we’ll keep in the back of our minds.”

The Crimson Tide returned to the field with plenty of the normal

August concerns: Choosing a starting quarterback, replacing four

first-round NFL draft picks, finding a new left tackle. Enduring

the sauna-like temperatures. And dealing with the expectations of a

team that is favored to win the Southeastern Conference

championship and on the short list of projected national title

contenders.

The players and coaches also can’t forget the April tornado that

killed 47 people in Tuscaloosa. Tide players can’t rebuild homes or

families. Bring some more smiles to those impacted? That’s

certainly doable.

“Those people are behind us,” defensive lineman Josh Chapman

said, “and it’s time for us to be behind them also.”

.The Tide also endured the death a few weeks later of Douglas, a

junior college transfer and potential starting left tackle. A

Florida medical examiner’s report found that the 21-year-old

Douglas died as a result of multiple drugs that were found in his

system.

“It kind of makes you think, ‘Wow, here’s a guy who’s my age and

he’s gone,'” said Jones, a fellow offensive lineman. “I still think

about it from time to time when I see his locker.”

Douglas only arrived on campus in January, but left an

impression. Vlachos recalls Douglas as a “fun-loving guy that was

very talented at football and was a good friend to everybody the

minute he walked in the door.

“He was a trustworthy friend who was a very talented football

player and was a joy to be around,” he said.

Amid all that, the Tide does have some football issues to

contend with, too.

Sophomore AJ McCarron and redshirt freshman Phillip Sims are

still vying to become the starting quarterback. Jones worked

exclusively at left tackle Friday, though it’s not clear if that’s

where he’ll land or some other tackle will emerge.

And one of the most anticipated recruits, wide receiver Duron

Carter, was still awaiting clearance to practice. The junior

college transfer and onetime Ohio State signee is the son of former

NFL star Cris Carter and among the players who could help fill the

void left by first-round pick Julio Jones.

“We don’t have all of his information from all of his grades,”

coach Nick Saban said. “Until we get that information, even though

he’s here, he’s not eligible to practice or be in camp.”

Saban is seeking pass rushers on the defensive line, the only

part of a loaded defense that remains unsettled. He’s got a

shortage of depth behind running backs Trent Richardson and Eddie

Lacy. Plus, there are no proven receivers beyond Marquis Maze and

Darius Hanks and the two quarterbacks appear to be in a dead heat

to replace Greg McElroy.

All that gives Saban ample ammunition to dismiss that

championship talk as crystal ball predictions.

“Expectations that are created externally, and I think you know

what I’m talking about, really mean nothing,” he said. “They mean

about as much as if you go to the fortune teller and the fortune

teller tells you what’s going to happen good or bad. That’s about

what it means.

“If we want to go through the season kind of, ‘This is what the

fortune teller thinks,’ then that’s what all that stuff means.

Otherwise it’s going to be based on what we do, how we play, how we

practice… It will be about what we do, not what we can do. That’s

basically what it comes down to.”

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