Although former Alabama Coach Paul Bryant played many offensive linemen, he also played many at just about every position. It was his belief that once a game was decided, it was time to "begin thinking about next week and next year." In other words, building depth and experience.
No Alabama coach since Bryant has played many offensive linemen. Mike DuBose, who played for Bryant, was once asked why he didn't play some back-ups in the offensive line. "Because I don't want to get my quarterback killed," he said.
It's likely that Bryant had more players worthy of meaningful playing time than most of those who have followed him as Bama's head coach. Scholarship limits were higher, and because of his reputation he was also able to attract a large number of great players.
Mike Shula has been particularly short-handed because of scholarship limits, although there are more playing this year than in previous seasons.
Still, the starting offensive linemen tend to get the lion's share of snaps. There are exceptions. The starting right tackle in 2004 and 2005, Kyle Tatum, lost his job this year to Chris Capps, the starter at left tackle last year. Tatum continues to get a handful of plays as the back-up. B.J. Stabler, the returning starter at right guard, has been taken out from time-to-time to give his previously injured knee some rest. Marlon Davis is the usual back-up.
Even knowing this history, it is still something of a surprise that a third of the way through the season a true freshman offensive lineman has more plays than any other Crimson Tide player.
But it's not a surprise which freshman.
Andre Smith came in this year and earned the starting job at the critical left tackle position. And he has been on the field more than any other player this season.
Through four games, Smith has participated in 273 plays, an average of 68 per game. He plays on offense and is also a member of the extra point and field goal kicking teams.
Although Tim Castille is considered a co-first teamer at fullback, even with his plays at halfback in Bama's Jumbo Package, Castille has 85 snaps, well behind starting fullback LéRon McClain's 217.
Because Alabama has dominated in offensive possession in the first four games, the largest numbers of snaps have gone to offensive players. Bama has run 272 plays, opponents 210. Additionally, there have been 87 special teams plays.
On defense, it is men in the secondary who have the most plays. Simeon Castille and Jeffrey Dukes have 229 snaps, Ramzee Robinson 217, and Marcus Carter 173. Back-ups and nickel men Rashad Johnson (also a special teams stalwart) and Lionel Mitchell have high numbers, Johnson 145 and Mitchell 127.
Wallace Gilberry leads defensive linemen with 165 snaps while fellow starting defensive end Keith Saunders has 132. Jeremy Clark is the top tackle participant with 123 snaps. Dominic Lee is a first team tackle, but he has been the odd man out as Bama has been in a 3-4 most of the year. Lee has 69 snaps.
No linebacker has started every game and both Juwan Simpson (suspension) and Terrence Jones (injury) have missed one game each. Simpson has 142 plays and Jones 136. Prince Hall has started only one game, but has 140 snaps at middle linebacker. Matt Collins has 72. Demarcus Waldrop started both games when regular first teamers were out at linebacker and he has 104 snaps.
Thus far this season 76 Alabama players have seen game action, but only 49 players in all four games.