Tide’s Lee, Devall Assess Linebackers

Years ago, in the days of silent films and early day talkies, an actor named Lon Chaney played such a variety of roles that he earned the moniker “Man of a Thousand Faces.” At Alabama’s Media Day, Tide Defensive Coordinator Kirby Smart unintentionally paraphrased that title when he called senior linebacker Dillon Lee the “Man of Many Positions.” He meant it as a compliment.

Dillon Lee knows that his role on the 2015 Alabama defense is multiple, and will be predicated by opponent, down, and distance.

“I just do whatever I can do to help the team,” Lee said. “Wherever I need to go, or play, or do, where we’ll have our best chance to win, is what I’m ready to do.”

Smart also pointed out that Lee is the team’s starting “Sam” (strong side) linebacker in base defense, which is probably Bama’s least-used formation, but the senior moves inside in nickel (the team’s most commonly used set) and dime (on obvious passing downs). “I’ve always played both (inside and outside),” said Lee. “I’ve always kind of cross-trained here, from inside to outside, so it’s kind of second nature to me because I’ve been doing it for so long.”

Lee then took time to talk about what he’s seeing from some of his younger teammates, starting with junior outside linebacker Tim Williams. “He’s doing good,” Lee said. “He’s working on getting more consistent. He’s more dependable, and ready to play. He’s always been good. He’s a great pass-rusher, and he’s just trying to build on that.”

Asked about sophomore outsider linebacker Rashaan Evans’ role, this year, Lee said, “(Evans) and Tim Williams are both great edge rushers in our nickel and dime (defenses), and they’re able to get pressure on the quarterback. That’s really what they do, and I think we’re going to get to do more of that this year, with teams opening it up (offensively) like Ohio State and Texas A&M.”

(Is Lee predicting a Tide-Buckeyes rematch? He didn’t say.)

Much has been discussed about junior inside linebacker Reuben Foster’s tackling technique, and how he’s had to change it to avoid concussions. Lee has noticed a difference. “(Foster’s) been working hard on stiffening his neck, seeing what he hits, and just keeping his head up when he hits people, and obviously, it’s helped a lot.”

Lee has also seen progress from freshman to sophomore from inside linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton. “He’s doing great,” said Lee. “He’s one of our most instinctive guys. He’s real smart, and (Hamilton) picked up the defense faster than a lot of people. He’s on top of it.”

Lee also said fans could be in for a treat when redshirt freshman Keith Holcombe gets his first game action in the middle. “Great player,” Lee said of the Tuscaloosa native Holcombe. “He’s fast. He hits hard. He’s just working to pick up the defense, and get more consistent, and get more comfortable in it.”

In other words, the current Tide linebacking corps of Lee at Sam, Reggie Ragland and Foster inside, and Denzel Devall at Jack, is arguably part of the best front seven in the land, but the future seems bright, too.

Devall, a senior who has been through the SEC wars, concurs, and was happy to give his assessment of the Tide’s young linebacking corps. First up: Williams and his progress. “Oh yes, no doubt,” Devall said. “Tim is now weighing in the 260s. He’s a lot more focused right now, and that’s a plus for us. I’m just excited to see him get out there and contribute to the team. “

On Evans: “Oh yeah. Rashan. (He and Williams) are the two types of kids that love to have fun, and they’re some great guys,” Devall said. “They’re like my young brothers. I love taking care of them, and me and my roommate. Ryan Anderson, always have them over.

“I just see a whole different mindset with those two. Both of them are a lot more focused, and zoned in on the one key; we’ve all got one common goal, and that’s the national championship. We’re going to do whatever it takes to get there.”

On redshirt freshman outside linebacker Christian Miller, Devall said, “Oh, Christian Miller: he’s a great guy. He’s a pretty well-balanced guy. Christian can play the run. Christian can pass rush.

“I can’t wait to see a lot of my young brothers get out there, and do a great job. I know they know what to do, and they work hard every day, like we all do. I just want to see them get out there, and do their jobs.”

Devall feels that the sum of the parts of the Tide linebacker group adds up to an effective whole. “A lot of us have different qualities,” Devall explained. “Some us can maintain against the run, and some of us can do both (run and pass defense). It’s like a brotherhood. If one of us is down, another one will pick us up. We’re all great guys, and we do the right things.”

A big piece of the front seven is senior defensive end D.J. Pettway, and he says fans should keep an eye on a young buck from his group: Da’Shawn Hand. “He brings a lot to the table,” Pettway said. “(Hand) is fast as lightning. He has that. He’s strong; he’s one of the strongest guys on the team, one of the fastest guys (on the d-line), and he’s smart, also. He’s going to have a great future here at Alabama.

“We bring in a lot of good guys, and I think the coaching staff is doing a great job of recruiting good guys, so when they come in, they understand that they’re younger guys, and we’re older guys, but we’re all still competing. They understand that we’ve been here, and they listen to us, and we listen to them. We learn how to talk to each other. It’s a whole ‘Process,’ and a team thing.”

Depth is something the Tide’s front four has plenty of, and Pettway is all for it. “We love the competition (among the defensive linemen). We love having enough rest to just play. We don’t’ have to worry about the ‘regular’ or the nickel, or whatever, we just play. We don’t get tired. Having depth is important. It helps us.”

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