Alabama Football: Power Ranking the Crimson Tide Inside Linebacker Unit
Middle linebackers are often viewed as the heart of any defense, but in Alabama’s 3-4 scheme, the pair of players that man the middle are central to the success of their unit.
Nick Saban’s system relies on big and athletic middle linebackers that are equally adept against the run and in pass coverage, more so than traditional run-stuffers in a 4-3 scheme.
Although Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart must find a replacement for Dont’a Hightower, they can build a pair of upperclassmen that shared the weak inside linebacker position—senior Nico Johnson and junior CJ Mosley.
Meanwhile, the battle to fill Hightower’s spot will rage on between sophomore Trey Depriest and junior Tana Patrick—plus a pair of top-flight recruits will jump into the mix when fall camp begins in August.
So how do the Crimson Tide’s middle linebackers rank when stacked up against one another?
Find out in the latest installment of positional breakdowns of the Crimson Tide roster.
With three of Alabama’s four middle linebackers being upperclassmen in 2012, it was imperative for Saban to add impact players that can be ready to play early if necessary.
By adding Reggie Ragland and Denzel Devall, the Crimson Tide locked up two of the top-five inside linebackers available in the 2012 class.
Ragland is a 6’3”, 245-pound in-state product that recorded an astounding 21 tackles for loss as a junior while the 6’2”, 240-pound Devall was a big-time pickup out of rival LSU’s backyard.
With experienced players filling out the two-deep at each inside linebacker spot, the pair of 4-star freshmen will likely get their feet wet playing on the special teams units this season.
4. Tana Patrick
Patrick has seen action in 15 games over the last two seasons, recording 11 tackles in spot duty.
The redshirt junior will likely see more playing time this fall regardless of the outcome of his duel with Depriest.
Crimson Tide fans are hoping his seven-tackle performance in the spring is a sign of things to come from one of 2009’s top prep linebacker recruits.
With a pair of impact recruits nipping at his heels for playing time, it's imperative for Patrick to play well when his number is called early in the season.
3. Trey Depriest
Depriest is the favorite to take over for Hightower with the season a little more than two months away.
As a true freshman last season, the Springfield (OH) native played in all 13 games and collected 25 tackles as a backup linebacker and on special teams.
The 2011 Under Armour All-American got a head-start on his college career by enrolling last January, and judging by his strong play this spring, the rising sophomore is ready to fill a spot that has produced the Crimson Tide’s leading tackler in three out of the last four years.
He is one of several new projected starters that coaches and Crimson Tide supporters have high hopes for this season.
2. Nico Johnson
As the lone senior linebacker on the roster, Johnson will be counted on to provide a steadying presence for the newcomers that will surround him this fall.
The 6’3”, 245-pound veteran is the most experienced member of the Crimson Tide’s front seven, having amassed 107 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and two interceptions over his three years at the Capstone.
Johnson has the talent to be one of the best linebackers in the SEC, and considering that NFL scouts will be closely monitoring his play this fall to gauge his ability to perform at the next level, he could be a candidate to have a breakout season.
1. CJ Mosley
After recording a game-high 10 tackles in the spring game, Mosley showed the legions of Crimson Tide fans in attendance that he is fully recovered from the gruesome-looking hip injury he suffered in the national title game.
The 6’2”, 232-pound junior is a rare talent when you factor his ability to excel at dropping into coverage (12 pass breakups and three interceptions in his career), yet maintain a level of physicality against the run (103 tackles and six tackles for loss).
Considering he and Johnson shared one inside spot last season, they could form a three-man rotation with Depriest at both inside positions.
Whatever the case may be, assuming Mosley stays healthy, his versatility will be a prized asset for Saban and Smart to rely on this season.