Running back Jalston Fowler.
Nick Saban and the Tide seem to have a lock on one of the best recruiting classes in the nation. The coach got most of what he needed, but not everything he wanted.
The team is already stacked with talent from top to bottom, and though Saban must plan for the future, there are five positions that have the best potential with their current underclassmen and could easily suffer an "off-year" in recruiting.
Here are the five positions that Saban and company can get away without filling all their needs and the key returners fulfilling those needs now and in the future. The classes listed for the players is their future class in 2012.
Safeties Vinnie Sunseri and Will Lowery sandwich cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick in celebration.
The safety position is bristling with talent and that is why highly-touted safety Eddie Williams (6'4", 204 lbs.) is likely to play as a wide receiver instead. Seniors are returning to pass along their knowledge, and the underclassmen are quite promising.
Robert Lester, Senior
Lester will enter the season as the Tide's best and most experienced safety. The best thing about his return is not just what he can offer on the field but what he can offer in practice. As a third-year starter, Lester will have another year to pass his experience on to the younger guys.
Will Lowery, Senior
Lowery will likely reprise his role as the nickel and dime back (a position that sees a lot of playing time). Like Lester, his experience will make him invaluable to the team. The coaches can only do so much individually, and experienced players do a lot to help the younger guys, especially in the film room.
Nick Perry, Junior
With Mark Barron and Robert Lester starting the past couple of years, many folks have forgotten about Nick Perry. He never red-shirted which is a testament to how much potential Nick Saban sees in him, and Nick Saban knows defensive backs. He's going to make a serious push.
Jarrick Williams, Junior
Williams is in a very similar situation as Nick Perry. He has a lot of potential but has yet to earn enough playing time to prove his worth. Scout.com mentioned he needed to improve his his coverage awareness, arguably the most important aspect of an Alabama defensive back. He's still about as physically gifted as you could ask for in a safety.
Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, Sophomore
Clinton-Dix could be the best example as to how stacked the Tide is at safety. He's a former 5-star recruit at safety but is capable of playing cornerback as well which is a strong possibility. If Saban is willing to move a 5-star safety to another position it speaks volumes for the safety depth.
Vinnie Sunseri, Sophomore
Before all is said and done, Vinnie Sunseri may turn out to be the crown jewel of the 2011 class. He's gone from a former 3-star linebacker to a key player for the Tide as a safety. He's my pick to win the starting free safety job opposite of Robert Lester. He's already one of the biggest safeties and hits like a truck.
There is always a plethora of talent at running back at Alabama under Nick Saban. That is why Alabama lost two transferring recruits, Corey Grant and Demetrius Goode, before the 2011 season started. Anything less than cream of the crop won't get a carry at Alabama.
Eddie Lacy, Junior
Lacy is the undisputed heir for the starting running back position. When he was healthy, he was blazing through tackles with his devastating spin-move. His turf toe will be long-gone in 2012, and though he could return in 2013, he just might leave early to become a first-round NFL Draft pick.
Jalston Fowler, Junior
Fowler was the Tide's big, bruising back. He's truly a fullback, but since the Tide doesn't use a fullback, he's carried the ball a few times. He's not the kind of guy to make a tackler miss, but he is the kind of guy that hurts you when you try to tackle him.
Blake Sims, Sophomore
Sims' unique situation has put the coaches in a precarious situation; they just don't know what to do with him. He's a true athlete, capable of playing many different positions (including quarterback) but running back looks to be his M.O. He entered the 2011 season at 6'0" and 212 lbs., a great size for a running back.
Demetrius Hart, Red-Shirt Freshman
Dee Hart signed with the Tide as one of the best recruits. A torn ACL during preseason practice turned his promise into dismay. He's shifty in nature and deadly in space. He weighs around 190 lbs. so should recover from the injury well. He's crafty enough to squeeze between the tackles and an absolute terror on screen passes.
Nick Saban values elite linebackers above all else. It's a critical piece of a 3-4 defense, and the big defensive playmakers and field generals are the linebackers. Once again, Saban has garnered a great linebacker class, but the present talent makes other schools jealous and could suffer an off-year.
Nico Johnson, Senior
Johnson seems to be the heir-apparent to departing Dont'a Hightower, at least for this coming year. He's by far the most experienced linebacker and saw heavy playing time during the 2009 championship season. With two championship rings worth of experience at his disposal, he's sure to pass a lot of knowledge along.
Tana Patrick, Junior
Patrick has been itching for playing time for a while now, and he just might get it in his red-shirt junior year. He has a lack of substantial playing time thus far, but time in the system could make him an ideal candidate at the left outside linebacker position.
C.J. Mosley, Junior
Mosley's future is uncertain after a severe leg injury in the 2011 season title game against LSU. Should he make a healthy return, he will be the Tide's best coverage linebacker but is still quite fearsome against the run.
Trey DePriest, Sophomore
DePriest seems like the clear-cut future at middle linebacker. Should he live up to his potential, he'll make the kind of impact that Rolando McClain and Dont'a Hightower have in recent past. His future is bright, but he may have to settle for backup duties in 2012 with Nico Johnson and C.J. Mosley around. He's too valuable at middle linebacker to play on the outside while he waits to become a starter.
Adrian Hubbard, Sophomore
Hubbard is one massive linebacker, though not in weight. He stands a 6'6" tall. He could make a great outside or inside linebacker for the Tide. He'll make a push to for playing time at either position. He's young and adds a lot of depth to the Tide linebacker corps.
Xzavier Dickson, Sophomore
Dickson needs just a few more pounds to become the ideal candidate to play the pass-rushing linebacker part in Saban's 3-4 defense, but he seems to be the best available prospect for the job. He's a pass-rushing master (he played defensive end in high school), and if he fulfills his potential, he won't be around for his senior year.
One would think tight ends would be more important to Nick Saban's recruiting plan as the team's offense uses two tight ends on almost every play. He has only hauled in one tight end, Kurt Freitag, but the roster already holds two outstanding tight ends that are currently freshmen.
Michael Williams, Senior
Williams has been the Tide's run-blocking tight end for some time and has paved solid pathways for the running backs. He doesn't have the softest hands but he does his job. As a third year starter he has a lot of experience to pass on.
Harrison Jones, Sophomore
As Barrett Jones' younger brother, Harrison has high expectations. He's ideally built to play H-back and will become a valuable blocker for the running backs as well as a reliable target for quarterback A.J. McCarron. Tight ends rarely declare for the NFL Draft early, so the team looks to have a valuable tight end for three more years.
Brian Vogler, Sophomore
Like Jones, Vogler has a lot of playing eligibility ahead of him. The mammoth 6'7" tight end seems to be the obvious heir to Michael Williams. He's already big enough at 252 lbs., but by the time he wins the starting job, he's likely to be a whole lot bigger.
When your sophomore quarterback wins the national championship MVP honors the future is bright.
Alabama's quarterback classes have been quite solid since Nick Saban arrived. A few have washed out, but Greg McElroy and A.J. McCarron have been solid picks when you base it off national championship rings. The quarterback lineup looks great right now and any quarterbacks signed are just icing on the cake.
The only quarterback on the commitment list is 3-star Alec Morris from Texas who may prove to be quite underrated.
A.J. McCarron, Junior
He guided a team to a national championship victory, won MVP honors and was the most efficient quarterback in the SEC. What more can be said? He still has two more years of eligibility and may stay for both unless he goes on a tear in 2012 and becomes a Heisman finalist—which I predict he will.
Phillip Sims, Sophomore
When Sims committed to the Tide, he likely didn't expect the quarterback battle to be as tough as it was. He seemed to narrowly lose the battle that lingered into the regular season opener. He still wears a crimson jersey for the time being, but playing a backup role for four years doesn't seem fitting for a former 5-star quarterback.
Phillip Ely, Red-Shirt Freshman
Ely may never see playing time with the Tide, but he's a solid quarterback as well as a winner. Of the pure quarterbacks on the roster, Ely is the most mobile. Scout had him clocked running a 4.57 40-yard dash.