Losing inside linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton for the season cost the Alabama defense a dose of experience and leadership that won’t be easy to replace.
Fortunately, there’s a redshirt junior ready to go behind him.
That’s Hillcrest product Keith Holcombe, who will likely ascend to the starting lineup following injuries to Hamilton and Mack Wilson on Saturday against LSU.
“Keith’s been in the system for a long time and we have a lot of confidence in him,” coach Nick Saban said. “He really understands the system, knows what to do, and he’s done a good job. He can be a signal caller out there for us. I think the playing time he got early in the season, obviously that experience is invaluable. We’re very confident that he can do a good job for us.”
Holcombe is the only player who started the season in Alabama’s two-deep at inside linebacker who hasn’t been injured this season. The redshirt junior saw more playing time when Rashaan Evans was injured earlier this season.
He has a career-high 30 tackles and two tackles for loss so far this season.
“I’ve done it before,” Holcombe said. “I do whatever the coaches need me to do. People saying I need to step up my game because SDH is down but I’m just going to do whatever I need to do to help this team. And, earlier in the season with Razor (Rashaan Evans) going down, it prepared me to get ready for this. I know I can play, I’m comfortable with the defense and I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”
Alabama will also be looking for more snaps at inside linebacker from freshman Dylan Moses and add depth elsewhere. But Holcombe seems likely to get the first shot at the position.
That shot comes against Mississippi State, where he was once committed. But that commitment didn’t last long. He flipped to Alabama less than two weeks later.
“Once I got in here, it was a pretty easy sell,” the Tuscaloosa native said.
Now it’s his fourth year in the program. He’s built a bigger role for himself each year, on special teams and then on defense. This week is his chance for an even bigger role.
“It’s just something that I have to take on myself that I have to step up to the plate,” Holcombe said. “Like we’ve always said about the entire season because injuries have been happening, it’s the next man up. If that’s me or some younger guys or anybody on our defense, we just have to step up, get comfortable and do our job.”