Alabama turned to its young linebackers once this season to fill in after a wave of injuries earlier this season. Now the Crimson Tide will do it again.
Inside linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton (knee) and Mack Wilson (foot) were both lost to injury in Saturday’s 24-10 win over LSU. Wilson is expected to be out four to six weeks, while Hamilton’s injury will be a “few months” Saban said.
“It’s unfortunate, but it’s next man up here,” outside linebacker Anfernee Jennings said. “We’re going to work hard to get everybody ready to go.”
Hamilton ranked second on the team with 40 tackles, while Wilson had 21 tackles and three interceptions. Hamilton’s had been a mainstay of Alabama’s defense for the last two seasons.
“His loss definitely devastated us,” said Rashaan Evans, Alabama’s other starting inside linebacker.
Coach Nick Saban said the Crimson Tide will need some younger players to be ready to play behind Evans and junior Keith Holcombe. Coaches can also shuffle some outside linebackers to the inside to help fill in the depth chart there, though the outside linebackers have taken hits of their own.
Outside linebacker Christian Miller, expected to be a starter, has missed Alabama’s last eight games with a biceps injury suffered in the season opener. Fellow outside linebacker Terrell Lewis injured his elbow in the season opener and hasn’t returned.
Evans also missed two games with a groin injury in the season opener, and Jennings was out for two games with an ankle injury. That makes six of the eight linebackers listed in Alabama’s preseason two-deep that have missed or will miss games due to injury.
“I think coming in, that was one of our deepest linebacker corps that we’ve had,” guard Ross Pierschbacher said. “Just to have it be hit like that, it’s tough but you know it’s part of the game.”
Saban suggested on his radio show that Miller and Lewis could possibly return later this month, but that isn’t assured.
Freshman Dylan Moses was one of the players who stepped in to add depth at outside linebacker when Alabama had injuries there earlier this season. He worked with the inside linebackers at practice on Monday.
“Dylan made a lot of progress throughout the season,” Saban said. “I think he has a lot better understanding of what to do and how to do it. He would be the next guy up for us to get ready to play at that position.”
Moses played perhaps his best game of the season on Saturday with 1.5 sacks against LSU, but he played mostly as a pass rusher.
Replacing Hamilton and Wilson will require some extra duties. Hamilton and Evans were usually the players to call the defense out for Alabama and make sure teammates are aligned correctly. That’s not an easy task for a young player to take on.
“He’s probably one of the smarter players that we’ve had around here in my time being here in terms of being able to make adjustments, being able to make calls,” Saban said. “Helping other players play better because of his ability to do those types of things. He is a good leader. There’s a lot of things that he does extremely well, and he’s a very, very productive player. He’s an all-around good player that is a great teammate, that has been a guy that’s a signal caller.”
Jennings said that Moses has done a good job in his role so far this season and spent time studying the playbook. He may be asked to do more now, but his teammates believe he’s ready.
“Anybody that steps in a role, as far as them playing the majority of the game, they have that ability to be able to just prove themselves, and not only that but just be able to help this team,” Evans said. “That’s that and it’s always going to be with anybody.”
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