The Alabama defense has been the best unit in the country for the past half-decade because of the linebacker position. The Tide are always loaded in the middle of the defense and this year there is a shift happening at the “Jack” position that will pay dividends.
Xzavier Dickson was the incumbent starter for the Tide at the position, but he has shifted to the defensive line this spring to gain experience at defensive end.
In his absence, Denzel Devall and Reggie Ragland are battling for playing time.
Nick Saban hates labeling positions, telling the media in 2012 (h/t al.com) that "If you say, 'Who are we going to play at the end of the day?' The two best outside linebackers. Not a Sam, not a Jack."
Ragland and Devall are two of the best on the roster and they will both earn time this fall. Who gets the start is the burning question.
This is All-American C.J. Mosley's opinion on Devall:
Over the course of the past year, Devall earned the most experience. He finished the year as a Sporting News freshman All-American selection and played in 13 games for the Tide. He was a talented pass-rusher that turned into a third-down specialist by year's end.
Ragland was a special teams warrior playing in 10 games last fall, but he still was able to gain invaluable experience.
He was unable to crack the playing rotation, but finished the season as special teams player of the week against Auburn. He has turned it up in the spring and will be a factor this fall.
Both are around the same frame—6’2", 250 pounds—and they are as explosive as any defender in the game.
The shift that Dickson made to the line has benefited both players, but expect him to also play a factor this fall bouncing from the line to linebacker throughout a game.
There is too much riding on the success of the defense this fall for the Tide not to put the best players on the field, but they have to be careful how they approach the use of youth throughout the defense.
Saban loves putting experience on the field, but he isn’t afraid to scatter in young talent. He has shown a proficiency in finding the perfect balance.
Devall has the advantage in this race, but Ragland will continue to be a consistent threat throughout the season.
There is not a lot that separates them and that is what makes the decision so tough. Though both will play, Devall will be the starter this fall at “Jack.”