The first thing a person would think when looking at the defensive side of the depth chart/administrative grouping/possible playing time predictor that the University of Alabama released Monday is this defense should be very, very good.
That’s partly because of a mixture of old and young talent on that side of the ball. It’s also in part because there are 12 positions listed.
That’s not playing Peter the Picky Proofreader. There is a good reason that 12 spots are listed. The secondary in its various configurations is hard enough to decipher during media viewing, and the nickel formation (five defensive backs) is the base defense against most offenses these days. So you either subtract a defensive lineman or a linebacker from the chart, or you go with 12 and do your best to puzzle out which players will line up at which spots.
If you don’t go that 12-position route, you end up with a situation like the current depth chart on offense (which has the standard 11 spots.) With only three slots for wide receivers, even though Alabama could line up with no tight end or no backs at times, you have to squeeze four de facto returning starters into three spots and you wind up with Jerry Jeudy (the 2018 Bilentnikoff Award winner, in case you forgot) and sophomore sensation Jaylen Waddle sharing the H-wide receiver position. Bold prediction here: Jeudy will be on the field more than half the time, regardless of where he lines up.
Beyond that, there was the usual interest in Depth Chart Day. This year has no quarterback controversy, which is the single greatest jet fuel you can pour on depth-chart interest. The orderly reporters who waited calmly when the press release was passed out prior to the Nick Saban press conference may be fighting with brass knuckles at this time in 2020, should there not be an orderly Tua-to-Mac succession.
Quarterback aside, the next perennial source of depth chart interest is the number of freshmen who make appearances somewhere on the sheet. There is sort of a natural progression for recruiting watchers that goes from signing day (or signing days, which takes some of the fun out of things) to A-Day (for the early entrants) to Depth Chart Day, when people can nod about the prominently mentioned, and occasionally ask about “So-and-So, who was a 5-Star!”
There are four freshmen listed on the top line at their position. All are talented. You could make a bit of a quibble about inside linebacker Christian Harris, who stepped into the void created by Mack Wilson’s early departure and Josh McMillon’s unfortunate injury, but he is a gifted athlete. DJ Dale at nose guard and Evan Neal at offensive guard look like prodigies who might be starting regardless of who was back (no, Dale wouldn’t have beaten out Quinnen Williams but a spot might have been found.)
Kicker Will Reichard has been all that was expected in August (he’s also listed with a “slash” at punter and you may see both Reichard and Skyler DeLong get opportunities against Duke depending on the number of times Alabama punts.) There are other positions where there are very good freshmen that will have to wait their turn.
A first-game depth chart is fascinating reading, although there can always be movement and surprises. Shaun Alexander rushed for 291 yards against LSU in 1996 and he was fourth on the depth chart that was handed out that morning in Baton Rouge. There may not be a surprise of that magnitude, but Monday was a starting point, not a final judgement.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @cecilhurt