We Know Jack Is Manned By Upshaw

An examination of positions for 2011 Alabama doesn't involve much drama at most positions. Everyone knows a star returning starter is almost certain to retain that job.

That is true at jack linebacker, too, the hybrid position—part linebacker, part defensive lineman--that is key to Alabama football success. The Crimson Tide is rarely in the 3-4 that is listed as its primary defensive style. More often than not, Bama has a nickel back. But the jack linebacker stays in the game as a pass rusher. It is the strongside linebacker who is ordinarily lifted for a nickel back.

The jack can be found in a number of areas--split out with a back for coverage, on the end or outside the end, or even inside the end in a 4-3 look. Some have said the jack linebacker defines a Nick Saban defense.

There was some expectation last year that Bama might lose its jack. Although Courtney Upshaw had limited success through most of the season because of an ankle injury suffered in the season opening game against San Jose State.

Upshaw started in 10 of 12 regular season games, and played in all 12. He was involved in 47 tackles (27 primary), 12 for losses of 40 yards, including five sacks. He was Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Week following the Florida game as he had five primary tackles and two assists and was in on four tackles for lost yardage, forced a fumble, and broke up two passes.

But it was late in the season where he really bloomed. Against Auburn he was in on 10 tackles and had three sacks and forced two fumbles.

He followed that by being selected Most Valuable Player in Bama's 49-7 romp over Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl. He had five tackles, three of them for losses totaling 29 yards, forced a fumble that resulted in the Spartans having to punt on fourth and goal, and broke up two passes.

Nevertheless, he said he never considered bypassing his senior season.

Thus the 6-2, 263-pound senior goes into 2011 as a pre-season all-star, including joining teammates Dont'a Hightower (middle linebacker) and Nico Johnson (weakside linebacker) on the Butkus Award watch list.

One of the most talked about newcomers of spring practice was Adrian Hubbard, a 6-6, 232-pound redshirt freshman who had been expected to be a defensive end. Hubbard has excellent speed off the edge and is listed as the number two man at jack linebacker.

Anthony Orr also reported to Bama last year as a freshman defensive end and is now working at jack. He is the biggest of the candidates at 6-4, 268.

This is one in a series looking at positions for the 2011 Alabama football team.

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