TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Simply put, he’s not the same player.
He doesn’t have the same range, the same awareness nor the same tackling skills as former All-American C.J. Mosley, at least not during his first three years at the University of Alabama. Then again, very few in Crimson Tide history, if not all of college football, can compare to the 2013 winner of the Butkus Award as the game’s best linebacker.
But that’s not necessarily how coaches want senior Trey DePriest to try and replace his former teammate on the Alabama defense. It’s Mosley’s leadership that he’s being asked to take over as the established veteran in the heart of a defense that will essentially have seven new starters.
“Trey has a lot of experience,” Coach Nick Saban said. “He’s a very good player. We need his leadership on defense. He’s obviously going to become the signal-caller, which I think everyone looks up to.
“He certainly has the knowledge and experience and maturity to affect other players in a positive way. I think that’s something that’s going to be important for our defensive team that he not only contribute with his physical performance and doing his job well, but how he affects everyone else.”
|Trey DePriest's career statistics|
|University of Alabama|
In terms of on-field production, Mosley’s more than a tough act to follow. At the weak-side spot in Saban’s base formation, he led the Crimson Tide with 108 tackles while being named team MVP and finished third on the Alabama career tackles list with 318.
Playing beside him at middle linebacker, DePriest had 65 tackles, 7.5 for a loss, two sacks, two fumble recoveries and one interception.
None of the other returning linebackers had more than 30 tackles last season, which was Denzel Devall's total in his first year as the Jack linebacker, the hybrid linebacker/defensive end spot who frequently puts his hand on the ground. Among the other interior linebackers, Reggie Ragland had 17 tackles, Dillon Lee (who is more of an outside linebacker) had 16, Xzavier Dickson had 13, Reuben Foster had 12 and Ryan Anderson five.
By returning for his senior season, DePriest automatically inherited the veteran tag, as he’s played in 40 games with 26 starts.
“I’ve been around long enough to where I can handle it,” DePriest said about the play-calling responsibilities. “Playing with C.J. last year, we both took the role and kind of split it. He did the majority of it, but sometimes I had to help him out when teams went fastball and stuff, so he can’t get it off and communicate it so I had to help there too.”
With the future of Alabama’s interior linebackers probably resting with Foster and early enrollee Shaun Dion Hamilton, Ragland, a junior, has been lining up more as a pass-rusher on the outside in obvious throwing situations.
“Just find a way to get on the field more,” said Ragland, who added that he didn’t get frustrated working behind Mosley.
“I knew I had two years to learn behind the best, and I did.”
However, Ragland has also been working quite a bit with the first unit at Mosley’s old spot, especially after last week’s first scrimmage when Foster took another stinger. That’s actually better than a year ago when hit a teammate so hard that he knocked himself out.
Consequently, when asked about his eventual replacements, Mosley said at the Sugar Bowl that Ragland needed to keep studying the defense while Foster had to keep his head up while making tackles.
“Reckless abandon,” Ragland said about Reuben’s style of play. “He'll come down and hit you.”
While Saban said “consistency” is the key for the three primary interior linebackers “understanding their run fits, understanding their pass coverage all the time.” Hamilton has impressed teammates with how well he’s picked up the defense so far.
But ideally coaches want everything stemming from DePriest, whose responsibilities will now include making sure other players are in position to make big plays.
It was reflected in last week’s scrimmage numbers as DePriest led the defense with eight tackles while Devall and Ragland both had five. But Devall also had two tackles for loss and a sack while Ragland had two sacks and a pass breakup.
That’s what they need from DePriest the most, to be the leader and eventual captain, just like last year’s defense was Mosley’s.
“I’m just blessed to have a lot of experience,” DePriest said. “I’ve played for a while. So I’m just trying to help out where I can.”
Christopher Walsh is the lead Alabama football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.