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Nick Saban values elite linebackers above all else. It's a critical piece of a 3-4 defense, and the big defensive playmakers and field generals are the linebackers. Once again, Saban has garnered a great linebacker class, but the present talent makes other schools jealous and could suffer an off-year.
Nico Johnson, Senior
Johnson seems to be the heir-apparent to departing Dont'a Hightower, at least for this coming year. He's by far the most experienced linebacker and saw heavy playing time during the 2009 championship season. With two championship rings worth of experience at his disposal, he's sure to pass a lot of knowledge along.
Tana Patrick, Junior
Patrick has been itching for playing time for a while now, and he just might get it in his red-shirt junior year. He has a lack of substantial playing time thus far, but time in the system could make him an ideal candidate at the left outside linebacker position.
C.J. Mosley, Junior
Mosley's future is uncertain after a severe leg injury in the 2011 season title game against LSU. Should he make a healthy return, he will be the Tide's best coverage linebacker but is still quite fearsome against the run.
Trey DePriest, Sophomore
DePriest seems like the clear-cut future at middle linebacker. Should he live up to his potential, he'll make the kind of impact that Rolando McClain and Dont'a Hightower have in recent past. His future is bright, but he may have to settle for backup duties in 2012 with Nico Johnson and C.J. Mosley around. He's too valuable at middle linebacker to play on the outside while he waits to become a starter.
Adrian Hubbard, Sophomore
Hubbard is one massive linebacker, though not in weight. He stands a 6'6" tall. He could make a great outside or inside linebacker for the Tide. He'll make a push to for playing time at either position. He's young and adds a lot of depth to the Tide linebacker corps.
Xzavier Dickson, Sophomore
Dickson needs just a few more pounds to become the ideal candidate to play the pass-rushing linebacker part in Saban's 3-4 defense, but he seems to be the best available prospect for the job. He's a pass-rushing master (he played defensive end in high school), and if he fulfills his potential, he won't be around for his senior year.