TUSCALOOSA | Commanding a double team is a central part of Josh Chapman's job, and that chore doesn't often include a tackle.
Hence, the University of Alabama's nose guard isn't one to pile up gaudy statistics, nor was his name splattered across most of the All-America teams announced earlier this month. But as the Crimson Tide prepares for a rematch showdown with LSU in the BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 9, Chapman's value to the team isn't lost on his teammates.
"I feel like he's one of the most underrated defensive linemen in the country, said middle linebacker Dont'a Hightower. "Sometimes we get the play in a little late, and he sees the signals and he calls the defense for me. He gets the front set up so I don't have to set those guys up, then turn around with the secondary and everything."
Now a fifth-year senior, Chapman as much as anyone is familiar with his role. He primarily plays on first and second down, and often has to deal with both the opposing center and a guard on the same play. It makes for some tough afternoons, but the role -- when performed well -- creates an easier opportunity for the Crimson Tide's linebackers to make tackles.
"Josh is a really, really a strong player. He's very explosive, very powerful," said UA coach Nick Saban. "We have always worked to get him to be able to -- he has great initial quickness -- but to be able to run and finish and make plays in space. But for what we do, he does a fantastic job and has gotten better and better at it."
Saban said when former nose guard Terrence Cody was injured in 2008, Chapman filled in so effectively there was no real drop-off at the position. At the time, Chapman was merely a redshirt freshman. Since then, his playing time has been on the steady increase. With 22 tackles this season, 3.5 of them for losses and two pass breakups, Chapman has delivered the most productive season of his college career.
And the Senior Bowl has noticed.
Chapman said he has been invited to play in the annual game in Mobile, which draws scouts and coaches from every NFL team, but has not yet decided whether to play.
There will be plenty of opportunity at the wide receivers position for Alabama in 2012 with the departures of starters Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks, as well as reserve Brandon Gibson. Among those vying for action in spring drills will be freshman Marvin Shinn, a Prichard native who is expected to redshirt this season.
UA coach Nick Saban said the former Vigor star has been improving throughout the season in practice.
"Every player that comes in has a little different level of maturity, personally as well as physically, and emotionally, to be able to go out and sustain and be a productive performer on a consistent basis," Saban said. "Marvin has improved throughout the course of the year and I think spring practice is going to be a big time for him to develop the kind of confidence to be able to go out there and play fast and utilize his ability in a productive way."
"After leaving high school, before my grandfather passed away, he told me to promise I'd get my college degree. I thought, what better way than to go ahead and knock it out in one semester instead of going through another semester to get it. I piled up 19 hours this semester. Going through the season, that was real tough, real hard. A lot of the academic (support staff), and Jon Dever, worked with me real hard, and I appreciate it." -- Dont'a Hightower on completing his degree in the fall.
UA will return to practice from the Christmas holiday Wednesday afternoon, the first of four practices this week before the team takes Sunday off. UA will travel to New Orleans on Jan. 4.
Reach Chase Goodbread at email@example.com or at 205-722-0196.