Alabama is one of those schools that has the good fortune of having great depth. That's just a fancy way of saying the backup players are better than starters at other schools around the nation.
Unfortunately for the players, not everyone gets their shot at a program like Alabama. Whether they are not as physically capable as the stars, or victims of nagging injuries, some outstanding Tide players are bench-bound.
The real underdogs are the ones who pressure for playing time, keeping the starters on their toes. They are the guys who will see limited action but just won't go away.
Those are the kind of players you want battling for playing time, for they are never content with the notion that they won't be playing.
Undra Billingsley has seen plenty of the field, but not enough to manage more than a meager two tackles.
His freshman year he earned almost no playing time as a tight end. Since his first year as a tight end he now weighs 288 lbs., so that should give a good indication of how hard he's worked in the weight room.
After 90 tackles and five sacks as a senior in high school and nearly no playing time in college, expect Billingsley to really push for some playing time on a defensive line that lost Marcell Dareus.
Tana Patrick entered the Tide roster just in time for their championship season, but was redshirted. It wasn't a big surprise with Rolando McClain and company in the middle.
His action as a redshirt freshman in 2010 was very limited. McClain was gone, but Dont'a Hightower, Nico Johnson, and freshman phenom C.J. Mosley were on the board.
In his third year, Patrick is expected to fill a minimal role, but he knows 2012 could be his time to shine and he'll be preparing, starting right now.
The smaller Kouandjio, Cyrus's older brother, Arie has been pushing for playing time since his redshirt expired at the end of last season.
He's not quite as big, nor talented, as his "little" brother, but Arie has a real shot at dabbling with the line this year, and possibly even starting in the event of an injury.
D.J. Fluker could very well be gone at the end of the year, as will be Barrett Jones and William Vlachos, leaving wide open spots for the well-built little Kouandjio. If he wants to win a spot he'll have to start making a push this season.
As just a matter of opinion, I believe Arie will beat someone out of the backup slot this year, possibly Anthony Steen.
Coming out of high school, Brandon Gibson had the resume and the size to back it up. Though no giant, he is by no means small at 6'2", and was ranked as the No. 5 prospect in Alabama.
His wealth of talent didn't translate very well into the college world. A young man named Julio Jones just happened to show up for Gibson's redshirt freshman year. The shadow he cast wouldn't leave until the end of Gibson's redshirt junior year.
The Tide returns Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks, as well as outstanding new additions DeAndrew White and Duron Carter, so Gibson's battle for playing time is tougher than ever.
As an experienced senior, Brandon knows this is his last chance to shine. His career highlight moment was against a weak Georgia State in 2010 where he returned a blocked punt for a touchdown.
Tyler Love was one of the most sought-after recruits in the nation coming out of high school. A large prospect with a good frame, Love earned the prestigious title of "five-star prospect."
In 2008, however, when the Tide finally burst back onto the national scene, an injury cut short his freshman year. He was granted a medical redshirt.
Ever since, Tyler has found himself buried in the depth chart. He wants to change that in 2011, but with the offensive line all but finalized, he's in for a tough fight.
A big, downhill back, Fowler proved his worth quickly in 2010, despite being listed as a fullback at the start of the season.
Though he can scarcely be called an underdog now, he is still the No 3 back. Eddie Lacy, however, is just one fumble away from splitting a lot more carries with Fowler than he would like.
Including the Kent State game, Fowler is averaging almost eight yards per carry thus far in his career. Most of that was against weaker opponents, but as the third-string back he will get plenty of carries against staunch opponents this year.
He will be pushing Lacy and Richardson all year.
Brandon Ivory came out of high school looked upon as a backup for a program as prestigious as Alabama. After only a year, he cut well over 30 lbs. of fat and is finding himself making a very real push for playing time.
A true underdog, Lindy's Sports went so far as to name him "the Sleeper" for the 2010 recruiting class. They pegged him as the mediocre recruit who will make a big splash. Let's hope he does make a splash, as he wears the legendary No. 62, and has some mighty big shoes to fill.
Nick Gentry is a little small to be playing nose tackle in the SEC, but that's exactly what he's pushing for. He spelled Josh Chapman during the Kent State game.
Gentry was a highly valued recruit, but after a medical redshirt in 2007 he's seen more bench than field. Exasperating his situation is the fact that he was much better suited for the 4-3 defense he was brought up in.
Regarded as a football X's and O's savant and an "incredible pass-rusher," according to star center William Vlachos, Gentry has been exceedingly valuable in bringing up the younger players.
In his last year at the Capstone he won't be starting, but he'll be making a hell of a push for playing time. He reminds me of a little Jared Allen.
Phelon Jones began his career at LSU, but after seeing a bleak future there, and the future openings at corner after the exodus of the 2009 'Bama squad, Jones made the call to transfer to Alabama.
After sitting out 2009, he saw plenty of action in 2010. He's shown to be reliable as a backup and a regular in nickel packages, and Nick Saban runs a lot of nickel.
He'll be a senior this year, and the cornerbacks he's competing with are arguably better than those of the 2009 squad. Led by Dre Kirkpatrick and junior college transfer DeQuan Menzie, the cornerback squad also has rising star DeMarcus Milliner.
The outlook for Phelon isn't as bleak as his tenure at LSU, but he'll have to make some really big plays with the time he's given.
Will Lowery is the epitome of depth-chart underdog at Alabama. He was a walk-on his first three years. He's undersized. He's playing behind two future NFL draft picks Robert Lester and Mark Barron. None of that matters to Lowery. He just wont quit.
He broke onto the scene in 2010, impressing enough to earn the No. 3 spot at safety, and hung onto it all year. He even picked himself up a couple interceptions. He earned a start in place of an injured Mark Barron in the Capital One Bowl.
He's got an eye for the ball, he's got the confidence of the coaches and he's got heart. He doesn't care what he doesn't have.
Expect Lowery to make it very difficult for upcoming stars such as Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix to hit the field this year. Their talent alone won't be enough. They will have to bust their asses a lot harder than they likely expected to. That just may be more valuable than his on-the-field contributions.