It’s a natural assumption that Alabama’s new No. 1 running back, Eddie Lacy, is the key to replacing departed All-American Trent Richardson.

Lacy was more than capable as a backup for Richardson in 2011. He averaged an impressive 7.1 yards per carry on his way to 674 yards and seven touchdowns despite carrying less than 100 times. He’s the heir to the coveted starting running back position at Alabama. Lacy will get the preseason accolades, the most touches and will be an important part of replacing Richardson’s impressive 1,679 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns.

But he’s not the whole replacement plan. That’s not how coach Nick Saban does it.

Enter the lesser-known, but still talented trio of Jalston Fowler, T.J. Yeldon and Dee Hart. They will all be part of the equation. One might emerge as another standout backup. Just like Lacy did in 2011. Just like Richardson did in 2009 and 2010 as he waited behind Heisman winner Mark Ingram.

“I do think that we have a couple running backs that will probably create some competition,” Saban said at SEC media days. “But we've always played more than one running back.  I mean we've never been just a one-back team. We had Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson sharing time as players. Hopefully, we'll be able to find somebody as productive as those two guys have been to share that role again in the future.”

Fowler, Yeldon and Hart all bring something different to the position battle. Fowler is the bruiser. At 6-foot-1 and 250 pounds, he’s a load for even the staunchest SEC defenders to bring down. Don’t let his size deceive you. He averaged 13.9 yards per carry against Ole Miss in 2011 on his way to 125 yards and two touchdowns. Not bad for a third-string back.

Yeldon and Hart are the wildcards. Yeldon enrolled early and wasted no time impressing in the spring game. He scored on a 50-yard run and was named the game’s MVP. Hart, perhaps the speediest of the group, is coming off a torn ACL, but is back to 100 percent heading into 2012.

It’s a diverse group. There’s size, speed, experience, power and agility among the four of them. Collectively, the group sounds a lot like Richardson, the player they must replace.

Count one veteran offensive lineman impressed by the new group. Barrett Jones, the new center, has seen all of Saban’s great backs as he heads into his fifth year with the Crimson Tide.

"The whole position is like having a stable," Jones said. "I think the second spot is up for grabs right now, and I think we’ll play a lot of guys early in competition for that spot. But there won’t be a lot of dropoff, I can tell you that."

For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis from SEC bloggers Larry Hartstein and Daniel Lewis, follow @CBSSportsSEC.