This is the sixth installment in a seven-part series looking ahead to the start of Alabama’s fall camp football practice. We continue with a breakdown of the linebackers.
Perhaps no position lost as much proven talent as the Crimson Tide did at linebacker. Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams were as effective as any pair of pass rushers in college football in 2017. Anderson doubled as an edge-setting outside linebacker, too; one who set the edge and did all the little things that went unnoticed by most everyone. And then of course there is the loss of arguably the best linebacker of the Nick Saban era in Reuben Foster. There is experience that returns.
In the middle
Shaun Dion Hamilton might be the smartest football player on the team. He was in the midst of a superb season when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the SEC Championship Game. During spring practice, Hamilton did conditioning work in a black, non-contact jersey. ACL rehabilitation has come light years from where it was 20 years ago, but it’s not wise to expect a player to automatically return to his former level of play. Hamilton is the most experienced linebacker Alabama has returning, and his spot in the middle will be called upon to direct the defense. A return to his level of play from a year ago would go a long way. Beside him in the middle, Rashaan Evans enters his senior season with a chance to solidify himself. During his career he’s played mainly outside linebacker, although last season he filled in admirably for Hamilton during the playoffs. Evans is supremely gifted athletically. If he gets comfortable in the middle, with his athleticism, Evans could have a big season for UA. There are others who will factor in the competition, including Keith Holcombe, Mack Wilson and Dylan Moses, who could play inside or outside.
On the outside
Anfernee Jennings and Christian Miller will get the first crack at starting positions on the outside, but Terrell Lewis is a player who has prototypical size and length, and Jamey Mosley has added size at 6-foot-5, 248 pounds. Evans can also figure on the outside, especially on third downs. Expecting as productive a pass rush as the team got for the last two seasons with Anderson and Williams isn’t realistic, but Miller can help in that area. Jennings could be a Denzel Devall-type player, one who can set the edge in the run game.
Tosh Lupoi has proven elite as an outside linebackers coach, and he has some young players to work with this season. Jeremy Pruitt also has plenty of young talent to work with among the inside linebackers, but he also has Hamilton on which to lean. If the senior returns to his former form, the Alabama linebackers already have its leaders.