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Alabama football has freshmen in position for playing time at outside linebacker

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports
Arkansas offensive lineman Dalton Wagner (78) blocks against Alabama linebacker Ben Davis (1) during Alabama's 48-7 win in Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]

TUSCALOOSA - Five preseason practices is all Alabama coach Nick Saban needed to know for sure about his outside linebacker position, wboth of last year’s starters true freshmen will be involved in filling that void.

Alabama’s impressive haul of edge defenders in its 2020 signing class has already impressed in its short time on campus, to the point that Saban is convinced they will help replace Terrell Lewis and Anfernee Jennings.

“I think all four of those guys have shown some promise in what they can do,” Saban said Monday of Drew Sanders, Will Anderson Jr., Quandarrius Robinson and Chris Braswell. “I think a couple of them are probably going to add some depth to our team. They have some pass rush ability, they’re high-effort guys, they’re good athletes. A couple of those guys are going to be able to contribute to the team; I don’t know which ones for sure, that’s still a work in progress in terms of the evaluation, but I’m encouraged by that group.”

The four players UA inserted at the position just so happened to be among the most highly recruited prospects in the class. Anderson, Braswell and Sanders were all top 25 prospects in the nation, according to the 247Sports Composite, and Robinson was the second-best prospect in the state and top 75 prospect nationally.

“I think this recruiting class that we brought in up to this point in camp has been everything we thought they would be,” defensive coordinator Pete Golding said.

Golding also painted the picture of getting all players, but particularly younger ones not as well-versed in UA’s scheme, on the field in specific situations that fit their skill sets. He felt that was a weakness of last year’s defense, coming to the conclusion that, “we’re not going to ask them to learn the whole dime rabbits package and the whole nickel rabbits package because they’re not gonna have the ability to do that this early.”

Such a line of thinking would pave the way for UA to find the most college-ready aspects of its freshmen edge defenders and play them only when they can excel with those skills, while developing them into well-rounded threats on the practice field.

It may be easier to limit those players to specific situational roles when it has experienced players to take the other snaps. Redshirt sophomore Jarez Parks, sophomore King Mwikuta and junior Jaylen Moody all got limited amounts of experience last year, but the most experienced players have made names for themselves in preseason camp: redshirt junior Christopher Allen and redshirt senior Ben Davis.

“When I hear those two names, after this offseason and this summer and the first three days of camp, of practice, man, those guys are taking a leadership role,” Golding said. “They’ve worked their rear ends off, they’ve been in here studying, they’ve worked with the young guys on Zoom. It’s really nice right now, those two guys are like coaches on the field. That’s been a big, big help to those young guys in that room that are talented, that can play. For them to take them under their wing has been really nice.”

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or bhudson@tuscaloosanews.com or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson