The depth chart is a long way from being settled, but a look at Alabama players' past performances and contributions gives a solid idea as to who will be the key players on the depth chart. This is even before the bulk of spring practice commences.
That being said, this is merely an educated prediction as to how the depth chart will look when the dust has settled. However, a lot can happen between now and then, such as injuries or mystery players coming out of nowhere to impress.
Here's a look at who I expect to become the first- and second-string players on the Crimson Tide's roster, with their class in 2012 listed.
Alabama is not a pass-heavy team, but the quarterback is just as important. 'Bama quarterbacks are game managers that are expected to not lose games, but they are also expected to step up and make big plays when it matters most. The Tide has a duo of smart young quarterbacks who just happen to be capable gunslingers.
A.J. McCarron, Junior, 6'4", 205 pounds
McCarron is the unquestioned leader of the Tide's offense heading into 2012. With BCS National Championship MVP honors, solid numbers and great work ethic McCarron looks to improve on them all next season.
Phillip Sims, Sophomore, 6'2", 212 pounds
Sims must do a lot more than McCarron to win the starting positio,n as proving to be his equal just isn't enough to win him the job. He is a great talent and could become the starter at a moment's notice if an injury occurs.
The running back is the staple of the Alabama offense. They are a true two-dimensional team, but they place a great emphasis on keeping the run game strong.
Eddie Lacy, Junior, 6'0", 220 pounds
The "Circle Button" combines his deadly spin move with pure agility and power to become one of the most dangerous backs in all of college football. Barring injury, he's the perfect man for Alabama's job.
T.J. Yeldon, Freshman, 6'1", 215 pounds
I believe that Yeldon will be thrown into the fire as a true freshman as the future featured back. Fellow back Jalston Fowler has more experience, but is a pure straight-line power runner. Demetrius Hart is a light back with agility and lateral movement. Yeldon can do both in equal measure.
Alabama under Nick Saban often confuses opposing defenses with the strange looks in the two-tight end sets. The tight end can often be the X-factor in clutch situations, and it will be interesting to see what they do in 2012.
Michael Williams, Senior, 6'6", 270 pounds
When it comes to run-blocking tight ends, there may not be a better one in the SEC than the Tide's Michael Williams. He'll be the starter, regardless of whether he has improved his receiving ability.
Malcolm Faciane, Redshirt Freshman, 6'5", 260 pounds
After a redshirt year, Faciane should see improvement. He arrived at the Capstone as a valuable pure tight end prospect with the blocking and receiving ability to excel in all aspects of the game.
Harrison Jones, Redshirt Freshman, 6'4", 248 pounds
Jones has all the qualities to become Alabama next stud H-back: hands, feet, brains. He is the total package.
Brian Vogler, Sophomore, 6'7", 252 pounds
Vogler is a massive target, and will be a welcome addition to A.J. McCarron's arsenal as the system should include an increased emphasis on the passing game. He and Harrison Jones will be in one of the fiercest battles this spring.
Since the departure of Julio Jones, Alabama has been a "receiver by committee" team. That may change in 2012, but if all these guys step up it, will remain that way. It'd be for the better. Scattering the field with a fleet of elite receivers is better than having a go-to receiver.
Alabama uses a variety of receiver packages, but for the purpose of this piece, there will be three starting wide receivers.
Kevin Norwood, Junior, 6'2", 193 pounds
Norwood has all the makings of being a great go-to receiver for the Tide, and he'll step up and prove it, just as he has done since 2010.
Duron Carter, Junior, 6'4", 210 pounds
As of right now, Carter is suspended, but he should be on the field in 2012. The Tide could make do without him, but he is a great talent to have.
Kenny Bell, Junior, 6'1", 175 pounds
Bell is a bit light, but he is a shifty player. He will be Alabama's primary target in the for screen passes, an invaluable part of Alabama's game plan.
Eddie Williams, Freshman, 6'4", 205 pounds
Williams can play either wideout or safety, and I believe Nick Saban (who prioritizes defense over offense) will break tradition and slot Williams as a receiver. He is a dangerous playmaker, and can play both outside or inside in the slot.
DeAndrew White, Sophomore, 6'0", 181 pounds
White is not a physically daunting character, but his supreme leaping ability will make him a valuable target for McCarron in the red zone, a place that Alabama struggled at times in 2011. White can jump and grab over almost any defender's head.
Christion Jones, 5'11", 175 pounds
As one of the Tide's smallest receivers, Jones has a long road ahead of him. However, he is an electrifying, agile player. He may also already have punt return duties on lockdown.
D.J. Fluker (left) and Anthony Steen protect quarterback A.J. McCarron.
Being an offensive tackle in the SEC is a lot harder than anywhere else in college football. SEC defensive lineman are not only strong as bulls, but they are quick as a hiccup as well.
Cyrus Kouandjio, Sophomore, 6'6", 322 pounds
Kouandjio should be recovered from his knee injury in 2012, but he was capable of starting for most of the 2011 season. He could easily be a future All-American, and is poised to start bulldozing SEC defensive linemen.
Tyler Love, Junior, 6'6", 307 pounds
Love, a former 5-star prospect, has not quite lived up to his potential just yet, but he may change that soon. His odds of beating out Kouandjio for the starting position are slim, but he will give it his best. He was a high school teammate of former Tide center William Vlachos, and both signed with the Tide in 2007.
D.J. Fluker, Junior, 6'6", 335 pounds
Fluker's sheer size, ability, and work ethic have made him a quality starter for the Tide for going on three years. He is not about to give up the well-earned honor of starting for the Crimson Tide.
Arie Kouandjio, Sophomore (possible medical redshirt freshman), 6'5", 309 pounds
Like his younger brother, Cyrus, Arie should be fully healed following his knee injury in 2011. He has a tough battle on his hands with Austin Shepherd, but Arie is a fantastic talent and should earn the honors. His size makes him a great candidate to play both guard positions as well.
In recent years, Alabama has favored big, bruising guards with a nasty streak. The trend looks to continue in 2012.
Chance Warmack, Senior, 6'3", 320 pounds
Warmack has been a two-year contributor at left guard for the Tide. With his dedication, he is not about to give up his role. He is a future NFL talent, and will continue to be a dominating lineman.
Austin Shepherd, Sophomore, 6'5", 321 pounds
Shepherd is currently a backup right tackle, but that position has a lot of talent whereas Chance Warmack's successor is fairly unclear. It is a bit of a stretch, but I believe Shepherd will be making the position change before it's all over and the season begins.
Anthony Steen, Junior, 6'3", 303 pounds
Steen received a lot of criticism in both 2010 and 2011 (from myself included), but he is a physically dominating player. By now, he has a lot of experience, and should have the blocking schemes down.
Isaac Luatua, Redshirt Freshman, 6'2", 299 pounds
Nick Saban went all the way to California to pick up this diamond in the rough. He was not a highly-touted prep athlete, but he has a lot of promise. All he needs now is to get his feet wet as a second-string lineman.
The Crimson Tide has been comfortable for quite a while with William Vlachos at center for the past three seasons, but his replacements are more than capable of success.
Barrett Jones, Senior, 6'5", 311 pounds
Jones is the Crimson Tide's unquestioned offensive line leader. As the most experienced and talented player, he will be perfect to take over snap duties for the Tide. Runs up the gut will be even more common with Jones in the middle.
Kellen Williams, Junior, 6'3", 305 pounds
I previously expected Chad Lindsay to get the second-string honors behind Jones, but a closer look shows Williams as the front-runner. Williams has the advantage in three major categories: size, experience and nastiness.
Alabama does not use a fullback, but with a new offensive coordinator, Doug Nussmeier, they may incorporate the play of one. Alabama has only one player at the moment that is a true fullback.
Jalston Fowler, Junior, 6'1", 246 pounds
A bruising runner that lacks lateral movement with powerful blocking skills, Fowler has thus far been wasted talent at Alabama as he really is a true fullback. If Nick Saban decides to utilize this position more, then Fowler is the unquestioned best candidate.
The most underrated and most important position in a 3-4 defense is the nose tackle position. Everything about the defense revolves around one very big man that does not give up an inch of ground.
Jesse Williams, Senior, 6'4", 319 pounds
Williams may be the best candidate for the nose guard position that Alabama has had since Nick Saban arrived, and all he needed was a bit of experience. He is an immovable object on the defensive line. Unless another team clones Trent Richardson, they won't be getting any rushing yards with Williams in the middle.
Brandon Ivory, Sophomore, 6'4", 308 pounds
Ivory, who is still developing, looks to be a hidden jewel from the 2010 recruiting class. He was an unknown recruit, but now seems to be the future at nose guard for the Tide. Unless someone else steps up (and steps up big), Ivory is the next man up.
Damion Square (Right) and Dont'a Hightower.
Alabama often has a tough time recruiting elite defensive ends. This is because ends in a 3-4 system don't get to go wild and chase after the quarterback. They are required to manage the offensive line.
Anyway, defensive end prep stars would rather play in a 4-3 system, where they get more freedom and recognition.
It takes a special, disciplined player to line up on Alabama's defensive line, and Nick Saban prioritizes wisdom and experience over talent on his defensive line.
Quinton Dial, Senior, 6'6", 294 pounds
Dial, a former junior college transfer, has been chomping at the bit to get on the field full-time. He is an outstanding lineman with excellent reach. He's no Marcell Dareus at the moment, but his potential and experience could allow him to make a big splash in 2012.
Undra Billingsley, Senior, 6'2", 288 pounds
Billingsley has been a talented depth chart underdog for his entire career. His size has been his limiting factor, but he is an experienced player who will prove his value with only one year of eligibility left.
Dial flashed signs of immaturity in 2011 with some late hits (penalties bother Nick Saban more than anything), but don't count Billingsley out for the starting position.
Damion Square, Senior, 6'3, 285 pounds
As a starter in 2011, Square played a big part in Alabama's No. 1-ranked rush defense. He is a smart, disciplined and patient player. He will use this to his advantage, and will not relinquish his starting role.
Ed Stinson, Junior, 6'4", 279 pounds
If any fans are like me, then they have been eager for a long time to see what Stinson is capable of doing. He'll get some opportunities to show us in 2012, but we may not see the bulk of his ability until 2013. He is a promising player with a lot of talent.
Nico Johnson making a tackle.
Inside linebackers at Alabama are expected to be field generals than have both brains and brawn. They must be able to lead the defense, make tackles in space and punish opposing offensive linemen.
C.J. Mosley, Junior, 6'2", 234 pounds
Mosley is a bit undersized compared to his predecessors Rolando McClain and Dont'a Hightower. However, he is incredibly smart with elite instincts and pass coverage ability. He has a great deal of experience.
Although I previously thought Nico Johnson would take over this position, Mosley is seeming like the better candidate every day.
Trey DePriest, Sophomore, 6'2", 242 pounds
DePriest will make a strong push for the starting role, but his lack of experience will likely keep him a backup. He is smart and agile, both qualities necessary to play middle linebacker at Alabama.
Nico Johnson, Senior, 6'3", 245 pounds
Johnson is a powerful run-stopping linebacker, and is perfect for the weak side inside linebacker position. He is a highly-experienced player, and will be expected to be a vocal leader alongside C.J. Mosley.
Tana Patrick, Junior, 6'3", 236 pounds
Patrick has fallen off the radar since arriving at the Capstone as a highly-touted recruit, but that will change soon. He is one of the fastest linebackers on the team with good size and instincts. He can play on the outside, but his experience will likely be needed at the middle, where he is most comfortable.
Alabama's outside linebackers are expected to be big playmakers. The defensive line is more often than not too engaged with offensive linemen to make tackles and sacks. That is where Alabama's game changers come in. The outside linebackers must go toe-to-toe with pass catchers and rush the passer.
Adrian Hubbard, Sophomore, 6'6", 237 pounds
Hubbard played defensive end in high school and many expected him to play as the Tide's pass-rushing Jack linebacker. However, his slim frame would limit his ability to take on the SEC's 300-pound offensive tackles. He has great range to make an impact against the run game, and has good potential for pass coverage.
Jonathan Atchison, Junior, 6'4", 240 pounds
Atchison has a really good chance to win the starting role. Hubbard may be needed for depth at weak side linebacker while he develops and Atchison has the edge in experience playing as a strong side outside linebacker. He is quick with good ball awareness, and can play from sideline to sideline.
Xzavier Dickson, Sophomore, 6'3", 240 pounds
Dickson was one of the highlights of the 2011 recruiting class, and looks to prove it in 2012. He is a relentless pass rusher with the size and agility to occasionally drop in to coverage or stop outside runs. Experience will be his only limiting factor, as his natural talent is top-notch.
William Ming, Junior, 6'3", 283 pounds
Ming is an interesting prospect that played defensive end until the start of the 2011 season. As Alabama's weak side linebackers are expected to rush the passer more than anything else, Ming is an ideal candidate. He is huge for an outside linebacker, but he is deceptively fast.
His experience may give him the edge over Dickson for the starting role (along with his bruising size).
DeMarcus Milliner denying a Florida receiver.
Alabama is one of the best schools in the nation for developing elite cornerbacks as Nick Saban is a cornerback guru. 'Bama has turned prep studs like Dre Kirkpatrick into stars, as well as underrated prospects like Javier Arenas. Next year's squad looks just as promising.
DeMarcus Milliner, Junior, 6'1", 196 pounds
Milliner enters 2012 as the Tide's most experience, and possibly most talented, cornerback. His skills and contributions are unquestioned, and big things are expected out of him. The NFL will likely catch his ear by the time the season is over.
Travell Dixon, Junior, 6'2", 200 pounds
Dixon will be Kirkpatrick's replacement as the Crimson Tide's long, rangy corner with a nasty streak when it comes to tackles. Dixon is a junior college transfer, but he could potentially be a bigger playmaker than Kirkpatrick was. He runs a 40-yard dash well under 4.45, and has all the makings of a shutdown corner.
John Fulton, Junior, 6'0", 187 pounds
Fulton is another speedy cornerback, but he has great size to go along with his speed. He is going to make a strong push for playing time, but he has quite the task ahead of him if he wants to beat out Dixon and Milliner.
Deion Belue, Junior, 6'0", 170 pounds
Belue is a lightweight corner with blazing speed. He runs a 4.30 40-yard dash. The guy lacks only two things: experience and muscle. He is a junior college transfer, and Nick Saban doesn't bring those in unless he's certain they can contribute.
Robert Lester celebrating an interception.
Alabama's defensive scheme is so complex that is somewhat foolish to distinguish between the free safety and the strong safety. Mark Barron, the team's previous free safety for three seasons, was a heavy contributor in the run defense, which is uncharacteristic of a free safety.
A lot is expected from Alabama's safeties to keep the linebackers focused on the line of scrimmage, and they do a fine job doing so.
Robert Lester, Senior, 6'2", 210 pounds
Lester achieved notoriety among opposing quarterbacks in 2010 when he picked them on eight times in 13 games. As a result, they avoided him like the plague in 2011, and he only came up with two interceptions.
He will be the Tide's most experienced safety in 2012, and has no chance of losing his starting position with his strong work ethic.
Vinnie Sunseri, Sophomore, 6'0", 217 pounds
There are some that think Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix will win this position, but Sunseri is an elite talent. His instincts, speed and strength are nearly second to none. His only limitation is his leaping ability, but the rest of his stats are impressive. He is perfect to be the Tide's run-support safety, but has great coverage skills as well.
Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, Sophomore, 6'1", 203 pounds
Clinton-Dix was one of the biggest recruits the Crimson Tide picked up in recent years, but he was completely out-shined during special teams play by Sunseri. That is not an insult to Clinton-Dix but a testament to just how good Sunseri is.
Clinton-Dix is the ideal coverage safety who can also play cornerback, and the coaches will give him a long, hard look at that position. If he stays at safety he will be Robert Lester's clear successor as the Crimson Tide's coverage safety.
Nick Perry, Junior, 6'1", 205 pounds
As a backup, Perry is a great compliment to Clinton-Dix. He is a strong run defender and good in pass coverage, but don't expect him to come away with a lot of interceptions, regardless of playing time. He relies on his instincts (which are quite good) more than anything.
Believe it or not, Alabama runs five defensive backs and three linebackers almost as often as they run four defensive backs and four linebackers. The dime back is a very important part of the Alabama defense and has been played well in recent years.
With how well Alabama shuts down the run teams are forced to throw against them and that is when the dime back comes out.
Will Lowery, Senior, 5'9", 180 pounds
As Alabama's primary dime back since 2010, Lowery has made quite a name for himself. He is a playmaker as the dime back as well as on special teams. After tearing his ACL a week before the 2011 Iron Bowl, Lowery will be limited for some time, but come 2012 he should be back in form.
Lowery's career moment was the 2011 Capital One Bowl when Lowery started in place of Mark Barron and the Tide routed the Michigan State 49-7.
Whoever loses the battle for the starting safety position will likely play as the Crimson Tide's dime back behind Will Lowery, or ahead of him depending on his recovery. Several cornerbacks will make a push for this role as Marquis Johnson did in 2009.
Alabama fans sure miss the 2009 version of Leigh Tiffin, but many have forgotten that Tiffin looked pretty awful at times early in his career. The Crimson Tide kickers experienced that same feeling in 2011, but that was last year.
Jeremy Shelley, Senior, 5'10", 165 pounds
Shelley does not have the strongest leg but he is incredibly accurate. In two years he went 102 of 105 on extra points (Leigh Tiffin missed three in 2009). One of those misses was when Alabama was ahead of LSU 21-0 with only minutes remaining when the excitement made the point matter little.
Shelley will stick to short field goals and extra points.
Adam Griffith, Freshman, 5'9", 165 pounds
Griffith has yet to experience the pressure of field goals in college football games, and Saban may keep him off those completely, or at least not force him to attempt long field goals and ruin his confidence. He has the leg and accuracy for it, but he will likely be used for kickoff duties in 201,2 as he is notorious for forcing touchbacks.
Cody Mandell celebrating with kicker Jeremy Shelley.
Ah, the punter. The position that everyone forgets about until he shanks a punt for 10 yards. It has less pressure than the kicker position, but it is a challenge in it's own right. Punters make or break games more often than kickers do.
Cody Mandell, Junior, 6'4", 202 pounds
Mandell has been the Tide's starting punter for two years now and has done a stable job. He rarely gets booming punts but he is consistent and makes few mistakes. Consistency trumps erratic performances every time.
Adam Griffith, Freshman, 5'9", 165 pounds
Fans that curse the kicking woes of 2011 will be happy to know that Griffith can not only kick like a pro, but punt like one as well.
Christion Jones (No. 22).
Since Javier Arenas left the Capstone, it has been a mystery every year as to who will be the next return man. 2012 will be the same mystery, but I have a few good ideas. Both of these guys have potential at kick returns, but punt returns are where they would be the most powerful.
Christion Jones, Sophomore, 5'11", 175 pounds
Jones returned some punts during the national title game against LSU after Marquis Maze pulled his hamstring. He looked capable. Since he isn't likely to get extensive playing time at wide receiver in 2012, he will be a prime candidate as a returner.
Demetrius Hart, Redshirt Freshman, 5'8", 190 pounds
Hart is a promising running back prospect, but only time will tell how they incorporate him into their offense. His return ability, however, is unquestioned. He is one of the quickest and shiftiest guys you could ask for on return duties. He's absolutely deadly in space.