Although Alabama Coach Nick Saban usually dismisses sack statistics, he does like defensive players who disrupt the play of the opposing quarterback, and no one can deny that a sack is a disruption. Although Bama is on spring break this week, when the Tide resumes practice March 23, new Assistant Coach Tosh Lupoi will be looking for a few good men at the outside linebacker spots.
Last year Tide defenders turned in 32 sacks. The leader in that statistic was outside linebacker Xzavier Dickson, who had nine sacks for 49 yards in losses. He also led Bama with 10 quarterback pressures. Dickson has completed his eligibility and is headed to the NFL.
Alabama has two outside linebacker spots, strongside (or Sam) and Jack. Last year Dickson was the starting Jack and Denzel Devall (6-2, 250, senior) was starting Sam. Devall will not be taking part in spring practice as he had surgery following Bama’s 2014 season. He had suffered a foot injury midway through last season.
Devall will certainly be in the mix for one of the two outside spots when the Crimson Tide starts fall camp in August, but this spring a handful of men will work at Sam and Jack. And one or two of them may also work at middle (Mike) and weakside (Will), the two inside linebacker positions.
Ryan Anderson (6-2, 255, junior) was listed number two at both outside positions last year and was effective with eight tackles for loss, including three sacks, and nine quarterback pressures. He has to be considered a leader for one of the outside spots.
Tim Williams (6-3, 235, junior) must also be considered a candidate for a starting job, or at least for considerable playing time. Reggie Ragland, Bama’s top returning defender at inside linebacker, discussed the linebacker corps following the Tide’s first spring practice. He said, “I told Tim, ‘You're going on your third year and it's time for you to step up and be the man that you can be.’ Because if he puts his mind to it he can be the best pass rusher in the country. He can lead the country in sacks, that's how fast and physical he is. He's just got to keep getting in that playbook and keep learning it, because I know he's physical. He's got to come in and if he does what he's got to do, he's going to be hard to stop."
Ragland is also high on Rashaan Evans (6-3, 218, sophomore). "The thing is he's got to keep learning that playbook and just keep growing and maturing as the weeks and days and years go by. If he keeps maturing, he's a freak. He's a freak of nature for real. The things I've seen him do, some people don't get a chance to see that and play with a guy like that. If he does what he needs to do he can be very freakish."
Lupoi and Kirby Smart, who coaches inside linebackers, may be negotiating over where Dillon Lee (6-4, 242, senior) lines up. Although he has been listed primarily as an outside linebacker, he’s also big and physical enough to play on the inside.
Also in the outside linebacker mix is Christian Miller (6-3, 215), who was redshirted as a freshman last season.
Alabama will conclude spring practice with the A-Day Game at Bryant-Denny Stadium on April 18.