Alabama Linebacker Keeps His Head Up

“Keep your head up,” is good advice to those needing a little encouragement. It is more than inspiration to an Alabama middle linebacker.

Reuben Foster has been able to make an impression as a member of the Alabama football team, particularly with his laser coverage and blow-up tackles on the Crimson Tide’s kickoff coverage team. Unfortunately, Foster, a 6-1, 244-pound upcoming junior, tends to do more damage to himself than he does to the opposing ball-carrier.

When Bama begins spring practice in mid-March, Foster will find himself in a new situation. Over the past two years the two inside linebacker spots have been in the hands of the likes of C.J. Mosley, Trey DePriest, and Reggie Ragland. Ragland is back this year, but DePriest has finished his career and Alabama will be looking to fill that middle linebacker spot.

Foster’s progress has been limited in part in his first two years at Alabama by his injury problems. Nevertheless, in Bama’s 12-2 season of 2014 he played in all but one game, missing the Tennessee contest.

Although it came in the first game of the season, against West Virginia in Atlanta, there may have been a hint of what to expect. DePriest was suspended for that opening game and Foster was the starting middle linebacker and turned in seven tackles in Bama’s win.

He had four tackles, including his first sack, against Texas A&M. Still, many of his 20 tackles last year came in special teams coverage.

“I enjoy it,” Foster said of his kickoff coverage. “It’s my role and it gives me an opportunity to help get my team fired up.”

It does that. And it plays a more practical purpose, too, in limiting opposing team returns. Perhaps none is more memorable than Foster’s big hit on LSU’s talented tailback, Leonard Fournette, late in the fourth quarter at Baton Rouge. Bama had battled back to tie the game late and the Tigers would have one last chance to win in regulation. Foster’s crush of Fournette helped in getting the game to overtime, where Alabama won it.

Foster watched that kickoff coverage hit “about 15 times,” he said. But not from a vanity standpoint. He wanted to see what he had done to hurt himself.

“I have to keep my head up,” he said. “I wish I had kept my head up on that tackle. I have learned what to do. That was just a mistake.”

Foster said he doesn’t suffer from the so-called “stinger” that numbs the nerves in the shoulder and neck, but rather “it’s more like a whiplash. I’ve had a lot of MRIs and doctors and trainers have examined it and I should be good” if he does as coached.

He wears a prominent collar in games that he said helps keep his neck from going back, which should encourage him to keep his head up when tackling. “It helps,” he said.

Foster doesn’t concentrate much on the injuries of the past. “I’m good, I’m satisfied, I’m relieved, and I’m ready to practice,” he said.

Alabama uses two inside linebackers and Foster has experience both at middle linebacker and at the weakside spot which seems likely to be manned by Ragland again this season. He was listed on the Bama depth chart as the back-up to DePriest. Foster said that when Alabama is in nickel, that he is a middle linebacker, and that when the Tide is in regular 3-4, he is a weakside linebacker.

The Tide is almost always in nickel.

Foster said he’s not looking back on last year and not looking ahead to the upcoming season as Bama is in its off-season program. “Coach (Nick) Saban tells us, ‘Be where your fet are.’ I’m focused on the present.”

He does admit to looking back with relief at Bama’s 55-44 win over Auburn in last year’s regular season finale. “I didn’t want to go another whole year listening to the same stuff when I went home (to Auburn),” he said.

There was much emotion and controversy as Foster originally committed to Alabama when he lived in Georgia. He then moved to Auburn and thereafter committed to the Tigers. By signing day 2013 he was back in the Crimson Tide camp.

“There was a lot of emotion, a lot of anger,” he said of the recruiting process. “But I overcame it because I picked the right school. The coaches were with me, the players were with me no matter what decision I made. And so were the Auburn coaches. I felt like Alabama was home, then I felt like Auburn was home. Auburn was great. It’s just that I fell in love with Alabama.”

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