What we saw from Alabama football linebacker Henry To'o To'o in first week of practice
Linebacker Henry To’o To’o just joined the Alabama football roster this offseason, but he doesn’t seem to be taking a quiet approach to leadership.
Outside linebacker Will Anderson Jr. said the transfer from Tennessee communicates a lot.
“If you do something wrong, he’s going to step on your toes about it,” Anderson said. “He’s a very great communicator. He knows the defense well, too.”
Teammates and coaches have spoken highly about the leadership qualities in To’o To’o, who left Tennessee after two seasons and is now competing for a starting linebacker spot. He’s a week into his first preseason practices in Tuscaloosa, three of which reporters have gotten to watch for about 15 minutes each time.
Most of the viewing periods consist of only position drills. That small sample size doesn’t lend itself to drawing significant conclusions about how To’o To’o will perform this year, but it provided a few insights about his technique and fundamentals.
Here’s what we saw from Alabama’s new junior linebacker over the first week of practice in the following areas:
To’o To’o displayed great footwork in drills. His feet were precise and quick.
In a drill in which linebackers moved forward then back-pedalled around several dummies on the ground, To’o To’o shined. His feet were livelier than most of his teammates. While a couple of linebackers stepped slightly over the bags – not the design of the drill because that’s the easy thing to do – To’o To’o moved quickly and efficiently around each bag.
Good footwork is an important foundation for all football players, and To’o To’o appears to be solid in that area.
An inside linebacker’s success is predicated on finding the ball and then getting to it as quickly as he can. Instincts weren’t something that could really be seen based on the drills the linebackers were running, but there were a few opportunities to see To’o To’o’s athleticism.
On one drill Thursday, the linebackers had to quickly step across the bags then flip their hips to cover a teammate pretending to be a receiver, running with a head start.
To’o To’o looked good in this drill. He showed his agility and mobile hips as he recovered to intercept the pass each time. The second time, the "receiver" had a bigger head start, but To’o To’o managed to make a one-handed catch anyway.
Whether it be reacting to a play or having to recover to chase an offensive player, a linebacker has to be able to change direction, and quickly. To’o To’o displayed that ability in these drills.
To’o To’o accelerated out of his breaks well, staying low to be able to move efficiently and quickly. He seemed to have good recovery speed, too.
These drills didn't offer glimpses of To'o To'o's explosiveness when actually hitting someone. But during a drill that resembled getting past a blocker, defensive coordinator Pete Golding worked with To'o To'o on having better upward explosiveness.
To’o To’o, and the other linebackers, shuffled up to a one-man sled, got underneath it, shoved upward and threw it to the side. Golding showed To’o To’o how he wanted him to sink his hips lower to gain better leverage and power.
That will help To'o To'o against all blockers, but especially those who are bigger than him. Then, once he uses explosiveness and power to move past that interference, he can call on his good open-field acceleration to make a tackle.
These drills during the viewing period provided only a few aspects of To'o To'o's game. Questions remain such as: How physical can he be? How's his tackling? How will he perform in coverage when facing actual pass-catchers in a live game?
Saturdays will provide those answers.
Contact Alabama football reporter Nick Kelly: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @_NickKelly