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Though Richardson and Kirkpatrick's replacements may not be a surprise, the void Dont'a Hightower is leaving is bit of a mystery.
Some would expect C.J. Mosley to take the reigns, but his splash plays and coverage abilities may not be enough. The defense needs a new field general.
He has some solid experience, but Nico Johnson is going to be a fourth-year contributor. When Hightower went down in 2009 with his torn ACL, it was Nico Johnson that saw the playing time. He has had extensive playing time for three straight years, going on four.
Johnson is far and away Alabama's most experienced linebacker. In this year's championship season, his run-stopping ability as a linebacker was rivaled only by Hightower and Courtney Upshaw, both of whom are leaving.
He split time with Mosley, which depended on whether it was a run play (Johnson) or a pass play (Mosley).
When Mosley went out with a dislocated elbow, Johnson had to compete during passing situations, as well. He answered the questions about his pass defense abilities with an interception.
Next year, he and Mosley will both be starters, side by side at the two middle linebacker positions.
That is assuming Mosley heals well from his leg injury suffered in the title game when he intercepted a Jordan Jefferson forward pass and was subsequently tackled by Jefferson. It was a freak accident and was not a dirty play by Jefferson.
Johnson weighed in at 245 lbs. prior to the season beginning, but I expect him to try to add another 10 lbs. of muscle before next season begins.
He may be a late bloomer, so to speak, in comparison to Hightower and Rolando McClain, but he should be Alabama's field general linebacker in 2012.