One of the biggest constants of the Nick Saban era has been stellar linebacker play. From Rolando McClain and Dont’a Hightower in Saban’s early years to Reggie Ragland and Trey DePriest in 2014, Alabama has been able to count on its LBs to hold down the fort.

Heading into 2015, Saban and Kirby Smart are faced with replacing a veteran standout in the middle. Ragland decided to return for his senior year, a major bonus for the defense, but the spot next to him in Alabama’s 3-4 alignment is still up for grabs, with two players that have limited defensive playing experience vying for the job.

Everyone knows Reuben Foster’s name. The former five-star signee from Auburn, Ala. made waves during his recruiting, switching from Auburn to the Crimson Tide. He’s made headlines with his bone-jarring hits, too, laying out kick returners left and right on special teams. When you can send a cinder block like Leonard Fournette flying into next week, you can really hit.

Competing with Foster is Shaun Dion Hamilton, a rising sophomore. Hamilton also spent most of his time in 2014 playing special teams, only getting onto the field on defense as a reserve.

While many expected the open inside linebacker job to be Foster’s for the taking, it doesn’t sound like that’s the case so far in practice. Instead, reports are that it’s been Hamilton working alongside Ragland with the starters on defense. The two have gotten some work together when the versatile Ragland has moved to take reps on the outside.

Part of the reason the touted Foster didn’t get on the field as much as he could or should have last season sounds like a lack of playbook knowledge, as DePriest told Foster got a better grasp of late in the year. Despite showing he knew how to navigate through kickoff coverage, he didn’t display the same on defense. Hamilton, while not as loud on special teams, was just as good though, even earning the team’s special teams player of the week award after the Iron Bowl.

Both Hamilton and Foster bring an extreme level of physicality — Hamilton has tested as one of the strongest players on the team this offseason — that Alabama is used to having from its inside ‘backers. Saban has talked about both of their performance, saying he’s quite pleased with how both are developing and declining to elevate one above the other.

Five-star signees at Alabama don’t get much room for error. In many programs, a five-star recruit is expected to come in and be a superstar, if not immediately then in the very short term. At Alabama, where the Crimson Tide bring in enough five-star signees every year to supply three teams, those players have to fight for their jobs just the same as anyone else.

If Foster doesn’t win the job, will that be an indictment of him? If it is, it’s likely an issue with mastering the playbook, not of his football talent. And if Hamilton beats him out fair and square, that should be viewed as more of a feather in Hamilton’s cap than a demerit for Foster. Recruiting rankings aren’t always accurate; some players who star in high school don’t have what it takes at the next level, while other lower-rated players are late bloomers.

That’s not to say that’s the case for Foster or for Hamilton. Foster could well bloom into the force he looked to be in high school, and it’s not like Hamilton is some unheralded underdog — he was a top-10 player at his position in 2014. Both linebackers are immensely talented, and the narrowest of margins could end up separating starter from backup.

Ragland will be one of the best linebackers in the SEC come fall — as he was in 2014 — and he’s considered a potential first round pick in 2016. He’ll provide stability to the linebacking corps, regardless of who starts next to him in the middle. No matter who that player is, Alabama is guaranteed to have a young linebacker with limitless potential filling DePriest’s shoes.