Today’s 2013 spring preview focuses in on Alabama’s vaunted linebacker position where talent and experience are both abundant – more so than any other position in the Tide’s defense. Even with the departures of Tyler Hayes (stupidity), Johnathan Atchison (evidently has left the program as he is not participating in spring drills) and Nico Johnson, the bevy of ‘backers is still a very impressive group. In fact, technically all four starters at the LB position return this season. Clearly the most talented player in the entire defense is CJ Mosley and he returns for his senior year to provide every down athleticism and experience to the group and will be an every down LB this season. Trey DePriest really began to come into his own last season and he’s another guy who will be difficult to bring off the field regardless what the defensive package might be. On the edges, that’s where things get fun. Adrian Hubbard is back as the Jack LB and it appears Denzell Devall’s considerable abilities have moved Xzavier Dickson to, at worst, a floater between DE and OLB. But that’s just the starters. When you start getting into the depth of this position, that’s when you really break into a smile! Let’s take a look at the Bama LB corps for 2013…
Adrian Hubbard – 6’6, 248 Junior
Adrian Hubbard was coached up hard two years ago and, at the time, he was a 6’6 220 lb kid who couldn’t hold the edge. Today, Hubbard is a 248 lb terror who lead the Bama defense in sacks (7) and tackles for loss (11) last season. Hubbard’s true development has been his ability to take on tackles and pulling guards and maintain outside leverage so as to contain the outside runs. This is critical against spread teams who like to run the fly sweeps so Hubbard’s development here has literally been a game changer. This season, we’ll look to see if Hubbard can continue to refine and develop his pass rushing techniques as an edge rusher – the true calling card of a successful Jack LB.
Ryan Anderson – 6’2, 252 Redshirt Freshman
Ryan Anderson is a former 5-star athlete who absolutely terrorized offensive linemen in the 2011 version of the Alabama/Mississippi All Star game. Anderson showed off his immense talent by beating tackles off the edge or, if he got bored, he simply went right thru them with a devastating bull rush. Anderson’s abilities are perfectly suited for the Jack LB spot but he could also flourish on the other side as an outside linebacker. Anderson had better step up big time this spring because Johnathan Allen is supposed to be some kind of special and he may pass up Anderson in the fall if Ryan has a poor spring. And, you may remember Anderson was sent home from Miami in January so he’s already off to a bad start.
Jonathan Allen – 6’3, 260 True Freshman
Andrew Bone of Tidesports stated that Allen may be the best recruit Saban has ever signed to play the Jack position. This 5-star was the 11th ranked athlete in the country and combines the speed and power that are certainly 5-star worthy. Allen will arrive in the summer and will begin working hard to take on the role that Denzel Devall had last year. You can bet that if Allen is nearly as good as folks say, he’ll certainly find his way onto the field in 2013.
CJ Mosley – 6’2, 232 Senior
What can you say about CJ Mosley? As soon as this kid stepped onto campus, he showed that he belonged as a big time player. Mosley’s ability to read and diagnose the passing game led to him being a primary fixture in nickel and dime packages and now his overall game has evolved to a full-time starter. Saban lamented over the fact that LSU’s double tight end sets and their sets with a FB forced Mosley off the field last season. This was a problem that was rectified against Georgia and obviously now we’ll rarely see Mosley leave the field. Numerous people have said that Mosley was the best player on Alabama’s defense last season and Bama is fortunate to have him back for his senior year. His ability to defend the spread offenses is the key to the entire Bama D. The only thing we think Mosley will be working on is taking on the full-time leadership role on D.
Trey Depriest – 6’2, 242 Junior
Trey Depriest is a very good all around LB. He has the size to thump as a middle linebacker and he has enough speed and instincts to do a pretty darn good job in coverage. Trey looked a step or two slower last year than he did in his freshman year and that’s likely due to a problematic ankle injury he struggled with all season. We look for Depriest to continue to grow and flourish as one of the two starting middle linebackers this season.
Tana Patrick – 6’3, 236 Senior
This senior has seemingly been around since the Shula years yet he’s never quite been able to crack the starting spot at any of the linebacker positions. Patrick has had experience practicing at every position besides the Jack position and 2013 could see his role as a bit of a Swiss Army knife for this year’s team. He should be able to provide veteran leadership and experience as a backup at three different positions (the two inside LB positions and OLB). He will need to continue doing well this spring as there will be at least one and maybe two talented younger players pushing him for time.
Reggie Ragland – 6’2, 247 Sophomore
This is a kid I was really excited about last season but an ankle injury derailed much of his development as a true freshman. Ragland is a big thumper who can run and, at one time, was seen as a possible tight end candidate so he’s got a ton of skills. We haven’t quite seen enough of him defending the pass but he definitely has the ability to stuff the run and play from sideline to sideline. I’m really excited about seeing his development this spring as he was on the cusp of getting some quality playing time last season.
Reuben Foster – 6’1, 240 True Freshman
Where to begin with Reuben Foster? Listen, we all know about his commitment to Bama, his decommitment and commitment to Auburn and then his eventual re-commitment to Alabama. And, we all know about his famed tattoo. In this section, the Lighthouse would like to shine its light on Foster the player…and Holy Mother of God is this kid a player. Foster’s dramatics during the recruiting season overshadowed the fact that this kid is one helluva player. His 5-star credentials are well-earned and in two different All Star games last season he literally popped off the screen. Foster is an absolute heat seeking missile with a nasty little disposition to go with it. While other kids were perhaps enjoying the limelight and experience of the All Star games (see Liner, Dee), Foster was intent on whipping somebody’s butt at every practice and on every snap. Love. This. Kid. Look for him to be in the 2-deep nearly as soon as he steps foot onto campus in the summer.
Walker Jones – 6’3, 238 True Feshman
There isn’t a lot of buzz about Walker Jones and he’s certainly overshadowed by his Outland and Rimington award winning brother Barrett. Walker is the third Jones brother to sign with the Tide and his first year will likely be spent redshirting at the middle linebacker position. As with every new signee, Jones will not be on campus until the summer.
Denzel Devall – 6’2, 243 Sophomore
At the time Devall committed last year, not much was known about the 4-star LB. We didn’t get to see him in any All Star games and there really just wasn’t a lot of talk about him on the boards or by the recruiting services. Well, Denzel didn’t really care because this Man on Fire became a critical role player as a pass rusher extraordinaire for Alabama in 2012. Look for Devall to use his 2012 experience as a springboard to big time playing time as a probable started at the OLB position. Put it this way – Xzavier Dickson was a very good player at this position and yet Devall has clearly bumped him down to playing defensive end. It’s not that Dickson did poorly – it’s that Devall is just that good!
Xzavier Dickson – 6’3, 262 Junior
Spring has become an interesting experiment for big Xzavier Dickson and by fall I sincerely doubt that his weight will remain in the 260’s. In fact, I’ll be tuning into A-Day just to see if Dickson has already bulked up from what he looked like last year as the expectation is that Dickson will spend the majority of his time with his hand on the ground as a DE. I thought Dickson did an excellent job as the starting OLB last season and thought he didn’t really get enough credit for dislodging QBs from the pocket. However, Devall soon showed that he had a much quicker first step and was a better edge rusher so Dickson’s transformation to DE actually began last year. Tune on for A-Day to see how Xzavier adjusts to having his hand on the ground. Will he hold the point of attack or will he get pushed around by the new OL? Tune in to find out!
Dillon Lee – 6’4, 240 Sophomore
Oh, Dillon – what happened? Lee looked to be earning time as a backup middle linebacker last season and even intercepted a pass against Michigan in the very first game of the season. But, somewhere along the way, Lee’s playing time diminished and he ultimately ended up getting sent home from Miami before the BCS Championship game. Lee certainly looks the part of a middle linebacker bringing size and instincts to the table to go along with pretty good speed. This spring will be of paramount importance to Lee as he tries to forge his way into the playing rotation at either middle linebacker or outside linebacker. He really needs to get back into the coaches’ good graces this spring and create some separation before Foster and Williams show up in the summer.
Anthony Orr – 6’4, 258 Junior
There isn’t much being said about Anthony Orr this spring which probably doesn’t bode well for Orr. The fact that Lee is likely in the doghouse could open the door to more reps and more opportunities to impress the coaches but if it hasn’t happened by his junior year then it’s a bit unlikely to happen for him.
Tim Williams – 6’3, 225 True Freshman
Williams was a great get out of the great state of Louisiana and, as a 4-star OLB he could end up being quite a force. We got to see Williams in the Under Armor All Star game and he was very, very impressive. He did a pretty nice job of holding the edge the few times he was asked to (he was playing as a DE) and he definitely showed a quick first step and strong burst as a pass rusher. Williams appears to have all of the traits that you would want from an OLB and he should be playing a significant role in a year or two. The guess here is that he’ll likely redshirt to gain a bit more mass this season.
So, there you have it – that’s quite an exhaustive list of players for the coaching staff to choose from at the different linebacker positions. I think there are two keys items to pull from this preview: 1) All four starting linebackers return this season and one of them looks to be moved to another position because his replacement is that much better. 2) There are two (and perhaps three if Williams develops as we expect) absolutely dynamic playmakers coming in the fall and between Allen and Foster the best may be yet to come. This spring is going to be very important to Ragland, Anderson and Lee because they are going to get pushed really hard by the newcomers in the fall. With Anderson and Lee likely in the doghouse from their Miami vices, look for Allen and Foster to garner quite a bit of playing time when they arrive.