Alabama Football: Power Ranking Crimson Tide Outside Linebacker Unit
Of the numerous losses off last season’s Crimson Tide defense that topped the nation in the major four defensive categories, Nick Saban’s outside linebacker unit may have the most experience to replace.
A trio of seniors have moved on—headlined by BCS title game defensive MVP Courtney Upshaw—and only one upperclassmen (junior Jonathan Atchison) remains on the roster.
Although Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart may have to deal with a youth movement at that position, there will be a few intriguing young talents to plug into the two outside openings on the middle level of the Crimson Tide’s defense.
Adrian Hubbard and Xzavier Dickson are a pair of sophomores expected to make waves this season, plus Alabama brought in three highly sought after recruits—a pair of which enrolled early in January—that will enter the mix for playing time.
So what can Crimson Tide fans expect from its young group of outside linebackers?
Find out in the latest positional breakdown of the Alabama roster.
Saban and his staff pounded the recruiting trail in search of filling one of the biggest needs in their 2012 recruiting class—and on paper, it looks as if they hit a homerun with quality and quantity at outside linebacker.
By securing the services of Ryan Anderson, Dillon Lee and Tyler Hayes, Alabama was able to grab three of the top 10 outside linebackers in the country as rated by ESPN.
Anderson and Lee both enrolled early and got their feet wet during spring practice, while Hayes will get a chance to jump into the battle for playing time next month when fall camp opens.
Expect all three players to find their way onto the field on special teams and at least one of them will get a chance to claim a backup position considering the limited depth in front of them.
3. Jonathan Atchison
Atchison appeared in three games as a freshman in 2010 and recorded just four tackles in limited action.
A biceps injury that required surgery ended his sophomore campaign after just two games, but the 6’3”, 236-pounder appeared to be healthy during the spring and was able to record three tackles in the spring game—where he got the starting nod at strong side linebacker.
With three years in Saban’s system under his belt, the clean bill of health plus a wide-open depth chart should provide Atchison his best opportunity to crack the rotation since he arrived in Tuscaloosa back in 2009.
2. Xzavier Dickson
Dickson appeared in seven games and recorded three tackles last season as a true freshman.
Figuring that he will be counted on heavily in the linebacker rotation this season, Dickson has added more than 20 pounds onto his 6’3” frame since last season, and he will begin fall camp at an imposing 262 pounds.
Although an ankle injury hampered his progress during the spring, Dickson was able to record one sack and a quarterback hurry in the A-Day game.
If Dickson can become a consistent presence on the edge, he possesses all the necessary physical skills to become a playmaker on the edge for the Crimson Tide.
1. Adrian Hubbard
In what may be a sign of things to come this fall, Hubbard put together a head-turning performance in the spring game by tallying seven tackles, four tackles for loss and three sacks.
The 6’6”, 248-pound sophomore’s outburst put the cap on a dominant spring and all but locked up his bid to claim the Jack linebacker spot vacated by Upshaw.
Although his experience is limited to appearing in nine games last fall and recording just nine tackles, Hubbard appears primed to become one of the breakout stars for Alabama’s defense in 2012.
This unit may be short on experience, but there is more than enough talent present for the Crimson Tide to put together an imposing group of edge rushers capable of striking fear into opposing quarterbacks.