Five key players for Alabama in 2012

In what will likely be an interesting season for Alabama--a team hunting for its 15th national championship--here are five players who will be key components in making sure things run smoothly.

1. QB A.J. McCarron The No. 1 key player for the Crimson Tide this season is of course the quarterback. It will be McCarron's second year as a starter and head coach Nick Saban is expecting big things. How do we know this? Because Saban is a run-first guy and has discussed airing things out more this season on numerous occasions as of late. He has openly discussed that he has more confidence in McCarron, which comes from the experience he gained last year, when he went 219 of 328 for 2,634 yards and had an interception-to-touchdown ratio of 5:16. Then of course in the national championship game, McCarron completed 23 of 34 passes for 234 yards and was named MVP. For Alabama's sake, hopefully Saban is not just publicly pumping up his quarterback, and McCarron has truly grown from last year and has the fortitude to be the guy for his team this season.

2. NT Jesse Williams Ah, yes. Williams, who is 6-4, 320 and all muscle, bench-pressed 600 pounds last week during summer workouts and told the world via Twitter. In other words, he's ready to eat up SEC offenses this year. Last season, Nick Gentry and Josh Chapman took on the run stuffing and pass rushing duties, but this year Williams, a senior, has been moved from defensive end to nose tackle and will take on some new responsibility. He has the size, talent, strength and experience to do the job better than anyone else in the SEC.

3. RB Eddie Lacy Though he's not expected necessarily to replace Trent Richardson per se, Lacy is expected to replace Trent Richardson. It's hard to put that kind of weight on a player's shoulders, but that comes with the territory when you are taking on a position previously held by the nation's best. Lacy, who sat out this spring with turf toe, is poised to lead Alabama's stable of running backs in 2012. In his first two years as a backup behind Mark Ingram and Richardson, he rushed for 1,080 yards on just 151 carries, averaging 7.15 yards per carry and scored 13 touchdowns—clearly he held value as a backup, so it'll be interesting to see what he can do as a starter.

4. C Barrett Jones Obviously this senior and reigning Outland Trophy Winner will be a key component to Alabama's success. The offensive line is essentially the neck of a football team, as they go, so goes the team. And luckily for the Crimson Tide, Jones is anchoring what could possibly the best offensive line in recent program history. Jones has practically played every position on the line and Saban has moved him to center for his final season. Jones' knowledge, leadership, presence and talent are invaluable and will guide the offense and take some pressure off of McCarron.

5. S Robert Lester Linebacker Nico Johnson may be more eyes and ears on defense, but Lester's experience in the secondary will be critical for such an inexperienced group. Last season Alabama had safety Mark Barron running the show, but this year that responsibility falls upon Lester, a fifth-year senior. He's the only senior defensive back who will see playing time and must guide younger players like Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Vinnie Sunseri and Bradley Sylve in order for everyone to be on the same page. Juniors Dee Milliner, Deion Belue, Travell Dixon and John Fulton must step up their games and aid Lester in the youth development process.

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