Alabama could have the quarterback under center or in shotgun. There could be one-back or two-back, or even empty backfield sets. Two tight ends are a possibility (Nick Saban said he likes to use two tight ends), and so are three or more wide receivers. Or it could all of that and more as the opening game and the season progress.
Nine starters return on offense for the Crimson Tide, but almost everyone expects at least one of those to be in a back-up role Saturday. And it could be a former star will be relegated to back-up duty.
Although reports say Chris Capps, who started at left tackle as a sophomore and right tackle as a junior last year, is playing better than ever, Capps is expected to be a swing tackle, a back-up to returning left tackle Andre Smith and to Michael Johnson, who is taking over on the right side.
Keith Brown was a regular as a freshman and a starter each of the past two years at wide receiver and was Alabama's second-leading receiver both as a sophomore and junior. But Saban has described Brown as "doing okay," while the likes of returning starter and Bama record-holder D.J. Hall, soph Mike McCoy, senior Matt Caddell and junior Nikita Stover are those who have earned praise from the coach and from other Tide players. Will Oakley has experience at the position, too, and Earl Alexander has reportedly had good practices.
The two positions where starters do not return are tailback and fullback. Redshirt freshman Terry Grant is clearly the leader at tailback. Although not large (5-10, 188), Grant is fast and powerful and also a good pass receiver. A big story of the pre-season has been Jimmy Johns working at fullback. Reportedly, the 6-3, 233-pound junior is also keeping his hand in at tailback.
Glen Coffee would seem to be the most likely back-up tailback as Roy Upchurch has missed some contact work following summer shoulder surgery. Upchurch is fully recovered now. Baron Huber is thought to be in contention at fullback, and this is a position where a true freshman – Jeramie Griffin – could also be in the picture.
One sure starter is quarterback John Parker Wilson, a junior who now has a year of experience under his belt. And not just any year. Alabama has had a lot of good quarterbacks over the years and Wilson threw for more yards (2,707) and more touchdowns (17) than any of the past greats. He has school records of nine 200-yard passing games, 216 completions and 379 attempts.
Alabama's receivers believe the passing game will be a major part of the offense, and the Tider expected to draw most attention from opposing secondaries is D.J. Hall. Hall has a handful of Alabama receiving records, including last year's 1,056 yards.
Although freshmen wide receivers frequently get playing time, with great depth in that position most expect Brandon Gibson and Darius Hanks to be redshirted. Marquis Maze, another freshman, may play because he is a quality kick return man.
Perhaps surprisingly, a couple of true freshmen are thought to be in contention for playing time in the offensive line. William Vlachos has been working at center, though soph Evan Cardwell is thought to be number two at that position, and Patrick Crump is working as a back-up guard. For the first time in many years, there is a suspicion there will be depth on the offensive line. In addition to Capps, Cardwell, Vlachos and Crump, offensive linemen who could see action include David Ross, B.J. Stabler, Alex Stadler, Drew Davis and Taylor Pharr. Cody Davis has been injured. Saban has had good things to say about two experienced tight ends, returning starter Travis McCall and Nick Walker. And there are reports that redshirt freshman Preston Dial has been impressive as a receiver and junior Charles Hoke as a blocker. Of course, a tight end must be proficient in both areas.