Alabama experiences change in leadership as spring practice continues

Matthew Speakman

“Every great team that we’ve had around here has had a lot of 
chemistry, a lot of guys that buy into principles and values, the 
organization and the standard and the way we do things,” head coach Nick Saban said. “We also had 
really good leadership to set a good example for what those things were all about, and didn’t tolerate it when 
people didn’t do it that way.”

Alabama lost key players such as Reuben Foster, Jonathan Allen and Cam Robinson to the draft. Not only were these players on the field, but they also kept the team heading in the right 
direction mentally.

With just three practices under its belt, the Crimson Tide already knows who will step up.

Junior Calvin Ridley is one of these players. He believes he is still 
learning what it means to be a leader for his team.

“I lead by example already, I think,” he said. “I just need to speak up some. I don’t say too much.”

Last season, Ridley experienced a drop from his impressive freshman numbers, but he still had a productive 
season. He caught 72 catches for 769 yards and seven touchdowns.

Regardless of that drop, Ridley is still perceived as one of the more 
talented players on Alabama’s team.

Ridley will have to fill the shoes of O. J. Howard and ArDarius Stewart.

“I would say I’m now the leader of the wide receiver group,” he said. “I want to take that role on and not only to my group but my team, and be one of the captains on the team. That’s what I feel like I need to do.”

Robinson’s departure saw the loss of the offensive line’s key leader. Robinson started at left tackle for all three years at Alabama.

Without Robinson, Ross 
Pierschbacher and Bradley Bozeman are among the veterans along the offensive line. Bozeman was an 
important part of Alabama’s rushing attacking as he worked on the inside at 
center. Bozeman wants to fill the same role he did last year, but is not taking 
any days off.

“Hopefully, I’m set in a kind of 
concrete position, but I still have to come out and bust my butt every day and get better,” Bozeman said. “This year, I’m really looking forward to coming out and really perfecting my craft at the center position.”

On the defensive side, junior 
defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne is 
one of the veterans hoping to expand his role. Payne has contributed to the team for two years now.

“It’s something new, because being from where I came from, I just like to sit back and listen and just learn,” Payne said. “But now guys are 
coming to me asking me for advice and stuff. It’s something like a 
learning curve.”

Payne has played with and behind players like Allen, A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed. Now that he has to step up and be a leader like those 
players, he’s using all of the advice his former teammates gave him.

Aside from Payne, junior Minkah Fitzpatrick is another player who is looking to become a leader on defense. He was a key part of Alabama’s defense in his first two years, 
intercepting two passes as a freshman and six as a sophomore.

“Definitely defensive-wise I’m one of the leaders. I kind of have to 
establish myself as a leader,” Fitzpatrick said. “You know, just 
setting an example for the younger 
guys and showing them how it’s 
supposed to be done.”

As spring practice continues,
Ridley, Bozeman, Fitzpatrick and 
Payne are looking to establish 
themselves as the players the 
younger guys can turn to.

“We’re going to miss them, but it’s kind of our time to step up and lead,” Bozeman said.