FLORENCE — Spring football practice will have a much different feel for North Alabama this season.
In 2012 the Lions were limited in numbers and coach Bobby Wallace and his staff were evaluating veteran players that they were not familiar with. With a year under their belt and a slew of returning players, that will not be the case when UNA opens spring drills Monday.
“Things are a lot better this year,” Wallace said. “The guys had a good attitude last year but this year we know everyone and we’re getting so much more done in our offseason program.
“Our seniors have drafted teams for our offseason workouts and the competition has been really good. The players have started taking ownership of the team, which has to happen if you are going to be a great team.”
The Lions have more than 100 players on their spring roster, so numbers will not be a problem in practice. Some players who were injured in the fall will be limited in the spring. That list includes senior safety Nick Williams, senior wide receiver Chris Simpson and senior defensive tackle Dominique Duster.
Wallace said some veteran players will see little contact work in order to prevent injuries and to give the coaching staff a chance to evaluate the younger players.
“We need to watch our young guys compete in practice and in game-like situations,” Wallace said. “We didn’t get to do that last year because we had to get ready to play so quickly.”
There will be good competition at several positions, including quarterback. Sophomore Luke Wingo will enter spring as the No. 1 quarterback after starting UNA’s final two games. He will
be pushed by senior Chris Alexander, who started the first eight games, as well as sophomore Kyle Crabtree and redshirt freshman Jacob Tucker.
“There will be open competition at quarterback, just like every other position,” Wallace said. “Luke needs a lot of reps because he was just a true freshman last year.
“Chris is such a powerful runner that he has to be involved in our offense. Kyle Crabtree is another guy that we like and need to find a place for, while Jacob just needs an opportunity to show what he can do. We’re blessed to have that many good quarterbacks and I’m sure the depth chart will work itself out.”
At running back, the coaches want to get sophomore Diamond Simmons plenty of reps. Redshirt freshmen Eli Williams and Will Minor will also get plenty of work.
Wallace said one area where the Lions need to build depth is at wide receiver. Simpson, senior Jason Smith and sophomore Lee Mayhall enter spring as the starters. Wallace wants to evaluate young players such as Javin Thatch, Coty Spurling and Chris Tilley, as well as Trevor Brooks, who is moving from safety.
The Lions must replace two starters on the offensive line. Sophomore Haston Coates and redshirt freshmen Stephen Evans and Ben Thomas will compete at guard, with sophomore Rod Winston, junior Keith Jones and redshirt freshman Ross Ware all in the mix at tackle.
On defense, Wallace expects the defensive line to be improved with the addition of transfer defensive ends Willie Bland and John Lattimore. Wallace said senior defensive tackle Jeremiah Booth has been the biggest surprise in workouts and expects that to carry over to the field.
Tavarius Wilson, an All-GSC selection, will move from middle to Will linebacker with sophomore Edderick Harris getting plenty of reps in the middle. Brion James and Brian Barnett will compete at the Sam linebacker spot.
There should be more competition at cornerback with the addition of Washington State transfer Terrance Hayward and the move of Lamar Smith, who played running back in 2012. Delvin Ervin and Jalen Reedus are returning starters at cornerback. The Lions are loaded at the safety spots with Caleb Massey, Williams and Floyd Jones, who started all 10 games as a true freshman.
Wallace said nothing will change from a scheme standpoint on either side of the ball.
“We’ll experiment with a few things, but it won’t be much different from what we did last year,” he said. “We just need to look at a lot of young guys and see how they compete.”
The Lions will practice on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday most weeks. The spring game is set for March 16 at 10 a.m.
Jeff McIntyre can be reached at 256-740-5737 or jeff.
mcintyre@TimesDaily.com. Follow @TD_JeffMcIntyre on twitter.