Alabama Football: Spring Practice Preview for the Linebackers
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If there is one unit on Alabama’s 2013 roster that has the most depth and experience, it will be in the middle of the defense with its linebacker segment.
When spring practices begin at the end of this week, Nick Saban will welcome back players with at least one year of experience as a starter at all four linebacker positions this season.
Thanks to the decisions to return to school by inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and outside linebacker Adrian Hubbard, the Tide’s linebackers could resemble some of Saban’s most dominant units since he’s been at the Capstone.
The latter part of that statement is a mouthful, but a rising crop of underclassmen make this segment one of the healthiest positions on the roster in terms of future outlook.
Youngsters such as sophomores Denzel Devall, Reggie Ragland, Dillon Lee and redshirt freshman Ryan Anderson are former decorated recruits from the 2012 class that will get a long look from the coaching staff over the next month of practices.
With a wealth of experience and talent at their disposal, Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart are free to tinker with new coverages and blitz packages.
Which of the young linebackers are worth keeping an eye on and which newcomer is a threat to emerge in the fall?
Find out in the latest edition of my spring practice preview series that focuses on Alabama’s linebacker group.
4.Starters Entering Spring
USA TODAY Sports
Sam OLB – Adrian Hubbard, Junior
Mike ILB – Trey DePriest, Junior
Will OLB – C.J. Mosley, Senior
Jack OLB – Xzavier Dickson, Junior
Entering the spring, the Tide’s four linebacker spots will all be filled by upperclassmen, which likely puts an end to the suspense of who will emerge as the four starters when fall camp arrives in August.
Mosley—who split time at his position with the departed Nico Johnson—emerged as one of the top linebackers in the country after finishing with 107 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions in 2012.
Also one of the premier middle-level defenders in pass coverage, Mosley is a talent that Saban and Smart can build around and use at various spots because of his versatility.
Hubbard—who led the team in sacks (seven) and tackles for loss (11)—and Dickson stepped up their level of play towards the end of the season.
This spring is an important one for both outside linebackers, who are both expected to become dominant performers this fall.
DePriest—who also shared time with Johnson as a co-starter—will have the other inside spot to himself after a solid sophomore season.
While all four linebacker positions will be manned with an experienced player, expect the competition to remain fierce due to the number of young linebackers fighting to make an impression on the coaching staff.
3. Biggest Battle to Watch
Pic courtesy, 247 Sports
The main storyline with the linebacker unit in the spring will be the continued development of remaining four linebackers from the 2012 recruiting class.
Lee, who recorded an interception in the 2012 season-opening victory over Michigan, appears to be the more natural fit to compete for time behind Mosley because of his ability to cover backs and tight ends in space.
2. Impact Newcomer
Pic courtesy, 247 Sports
Impact Newcomer -- Ryan Anderson
It seems like forever since Anderson—the high-school teammate of standout Tide rusher T.J. Yeldon—was one of eight players that enrolled early last year.
The 6’3”, 250-pounder was the only one of five linebackers from the 2012 class to redshirt a year ago.
Anderson, who is the cousin of former Tide defensive end Wallace Gilberry, is in need of a big spring. That’s because Alabama signed a pair of stud linebackers—including 5-star edge rusher Jonathan Allen—in their top-rated 2013 recruiting class.
With both Hubbard and Dickson being upperclassmen that could potentially turn pro after this season, the time is now for Anderson to make an impression on the staff.
1. Grade on Strength of Position Entering Spring
USA TODAY Sports
Grade on Outside Linebackers Entering Spring – A
Grade on Inside Linebackers Entering Spring – A
The 3-4 scheme is predicated on having linebackers that are capable of being equally effective against the run and the pass.
Mosley may not be as physically imposing as former Tide stars such as Courtney Upshaw and Dont’a Hightower, but he’s every bit the playmaker those two were. Plus, he may be the best coverage linebacker in the entire country.
Hubbard is a budding star that already has the attention of scouts at the next level. After flirting with the decision to leave after last season, the breakout star for the defense last spring could be primed for another strong performance this spring.
DePriest and Dickson are capable starters with room to improve on solid sophomore seasons.
Developing rising talents such as Devall, Ragland and Lee will take center stage for this unit in the spring.
In particular, Devall—who was able to quickly adapt to the college level and show flashes during a solid freshman campaign—is a player that could force the staff to find minutes for him due to his immense talent.
With a solid foundation of upperclassmen as starters and a wealth of talented younger players filling out the depth chart, Alabama’s linebacker unit should be amongst the nation’s best and could be the top unit in the SEC.