For months, Shane Lee has been the question mark. He is the freshman middle linebacker with the unenviable job of replacing Dylan Moses at the center of the University of Alabama football team’s defense.
As can be expected, that task came with its ups and downs. With more experience comes more ups than downs, and the Mississippi State game was one of the ups.
Lee was lucky to have Mississippi State quarterback Tommy Stevens throw the ball perfectly in his chest on his first play on the field, which Lee intercepted and returned 10 yards. But after that, Lee’s 10 tackles led the team, and he contributed a quarterback hurry in the win over Mississippi State.
Lee carrying that quality of play into the final two games of the regular season would be a significant development, and one that those in the program believe is reasonable to expect.
“Shane probably played one of his best games of the year, made a lot of plays and did a good job, a better job of tackling,” UA coach Nick Saban said. “We still have the occasional mental error by some of the younger guys that shows up, but I thought this was his best performance, most consistent game and I see him sort of starting to develop confidence in what we’re asking him to do and how he’s going about doing it on a consistent basis.”
Lee’s teammates also see the brewing confidence Saban is seeing.
“He’s still got a lot to learn and improve on, but he’s a really good player,” senior defensive back Shyheim Carter said. “He’s a starting linebacker as a freshman and that speaks highly of him. I feel he can get the job done, whether tackling or making the right call or anything.”
The season-ending injury to Tua Tagovailoa is not the only injury UA has to find a way to overcome this week, and possibly beyond.
Defensive linemen Raekwon Davis (sprained ankle), D.J. Dale (twisted knee) and wide receiver Henry Ruggs III (bruised ribs) all got injured in the Mississippi State game and are considered questionable for the game. Saban said defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis is also injured and considered questionable, giving UA a paper-thin defensive line rotation in the worst-case scenario.
With those injuries and more in mind, UA did not practice on Monday. Tuesday’s practice is expected to go forward as planned.
Jeudy, Smith up for award
UA is well positioned for another run at the Biletnikoff Award.
The Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation’s best pass catcher, announced 12 semifinalists Monday morning. The award’s defending winner, Alabama wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, and fellow UA receiver DeVonta Smith were two of the 12.
The only other school with two players on the list was LSU, represented by Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson. The rest of the list: Rashod Bateman (Minnesota), Omar Bayless (Arkansas State), Antonio Gandy-Golden (Liberty), Isaiah Hodgins (Oregon State), CeeDee Lamb (Oklahoma), Michael Pittman Jr. (USC), James Proche (SMU) and Sage Surratt (Wake Forest).
Smith is top 10 in the nation in both catches of 20 yards or more (17, tied for eighth) and catches of 40 yards or more (seven, tied for sixth). He is also one of just 10 receivers in the nation with 11 or more receiving touchdowns.
The 12 semifinalists will be trimmed down to three finalists on Nov. 25. The winner will be announced on Dec. 12 at the College Football Awards, which will be aired live on ESPN.
The Iron Bowl — a huge ratings draw last season — was given the 2:30 CBS kickoff slot.
Click here for more on the seven players the UA coaching staff named the players of the week for the Mississippi State game.