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August 27, 2012The University of Alabama football program will do something today that it hasn't done since January.
That doesn't mean the Crimson Tide will play a game - you still have to wait until Saturday for that. But it will release a depth chart, an event not quite as rare as Halley's Comet, but sort of like the flight of a migratory hummingbird that zips through Tuscaloosa on its way to Venezuela or Surinam.
Fans crave the information, though. Alabama practices are closed, and the scrimmage stats are sometimes hard to decipher without context (and do nothing to tell you who played well at left guard, for instance). So the depth chart is a cherished artifact of actual information and can even be useful, if you remember the rules for reading it without straining your retinas.
First, looks can deceive when all positions are not equal. Every position will have a player listed as a "starter" (although he may or may not start) and another listed as a backup.
But while both take up two lines, the distance between those lines can vary widely. At some positions, there isn't a great deal of difference between the first player at the second.
At others - like quarterback, if Nick Saban's comments are any indication - the gap is wide between AJ McCarron and whoever is listed next (probably Phillip Ely, but that is just speculation).
Without making any uneducated guesses, I think it is entirely possible - not certain, but possible - that one quarterback will see action against Michigan, but as many as five running backs (Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon, Jalston Fowler, Dee Hart and Kenyan Drake) could play, depending on circumstances.
At some positions, Alabama will list two players with an "or" between them, and there will probably be a reminder that "or means or." In other words, there might be a few decisions still to make, and the Monday depth chart might not be the Tuesday depth chart.
There is also the issue of versatility. Some players are quite capable of playing more than one position. Fowler can play H-back or tailback.
Several players have multiple roles depending on whether the Alabama defense is in a 3-4 or a nickel formation or something else. While there may be a clearly defined "first" offensive line and "second" offensive line, in case of emergency, Barrett Jones, versatile scamp that he is, could possibly slide from center to almost any other position.
For all the analysis to come, the most likely revelation about the depth chart is that Alabama has many promising players and no areas where it is frightfully thin. (Again, quarterback might be an exception.) By all means, if you are the sort of fan who pores over every detail, read all you want - just don't read too much.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.