Three areas of emphasis for the Alabama Crimson Tide heading into the offseason:
The time is now for center Ryan Kelly.
The offensive line: Assuming right tackle DJ Fluker does the expected and declares for the 2013 NFL Draft, the Crimson Tide offensive line will be looking to replace a trio of all-america caliber performers who combined to make 126 career starts for Alabama.
To recap: the Crimson Tide will need to fill the shoes of what were arguably the greatest guard, right tackle and student-athlete in UA football history.
The pool of likely candidates to fill those vacancies includes center Ryan Kelly, tackles Austin Shepherd and Brandon Greene, guards Arie Kouandjio, Alphonse Taylor and Chad Lindsay and junior college transfer tackle Leon Brown, a midyear transfer who will be on hand for spring drills.
The good news for offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland is that he's not looking at a total rebuild, as left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and guard Anthony Steen will rate with the top players in college football at their respective positions in 2013.
Nose tackle: The 2013 season will mark the third straight year that UA will go with a new starter at the position. And unlike transitioning from Terrence Cody to Josh Chapman to Jesse Williams, making the move to the next guy this time around will represent a bit more of uncertainty.
That said, rising redshirt junior Brandon Ivory has made steady improvement during his three years in the program. He saw meaningful snaps inc championship settings against Notre Dame and Georgia, which tells you he's earned a level of trust from the coaching staff.
Another guy to watch is Darren Lake, a massive youngster who saw action in eight games as a true freshman in 2012.
Secondary: If cornerback Dee Milliner follows a couple of other UA underclassmen to the NFL, the Crimson Tide will be in the market for a starting corner and safety.
While he filled in nicely at the other corner spot this season, need to see more from Deion Belue before the shutdown tag can be assigned to the rising senior. With true freshman Geno Smith gaining valuable experience down the stretch of the season and rising senior John Fulton a legitimate option in 2012, UA will have three semi-seasoned corners to work with when spring drills get underway in March.
In addition to the potential loss of Milliner, UA loses Robert Lester, a three-year starter who posted 14 interceptions in his three seasons as a regular. There's little doubt that HaHa Clinton-Dix will hold down one of the spots back here. The rising junior led the team in interceptions with five in 2012.
It's the spot opposite Clinton-Dix where things will get interesting as several talented options will be in the mix, including Landon Collins, Vinnie Sunseri, Nick Perry, Jarrick Williams and Eddie Williams. As you can see, depth at corner will be a bigger question mark than safety heading into the 2013 season.
Tight end: Couldn't do this list without including a position that will be looking to replace Michael Williams, one of the most undervalued performers in UA football history. It seemed appropriate that Williams was rewarded for years of dominant run blocking with a touchdown reception in his final game at the Capstone.
In addition to Williams, the Crimson Tide will be looking to replace Kelly Johnson, a walk-on who worked his way into a starting role for the 2012 opener against Michigan. Fortunately for UA, rising junior Brian Vogler came on as the season progressed and was the next best option behind Williams by year's end.
Joining Vogler, Harrison Jones, Malcolm Faciane, Brent Calloway and Kurt Freitag on the clock in the spring will be O.J. Howard, an early enrollee whose freakish athleticism is expected to bring an added dimension to the passing game.
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