Dillon Lee has not been a starter on Alabama’s defense in his first three years, but he has been a regular. The 6-4, 242-pound Buford, Ga., native has been particularly prominent on kickoff coverage teams. This year he’s expected to be the starter at strongside linebacker, an outside spot. But in certain situations, he can also move to an inside position.
“I play them all,” he said.
Alabama Coach Nick Saban appreciates having men who can play more than one position. He has had success in working players at a new position, perhaps moving them, perhaps not. But his point is that if a cornerback gets work at safety, and then is needed to play at safety, it won’t be completely new to him. Saban also has pointed out that men who want to play in the NFL – and all of them do – enhance their chances with the smaller pro squads by being able to do more than one thing.
Alabama has men like Cyrus Jones, who started as a wide receiver, and is now an all-star candidate at cornerback and the likely kickoff and punt return man. A handful of Tide players have moved from one position to another, including Eddie Jackson being a starting cornerback last year and a potential starter at safety this year. There are several others, and that doesn’t include men who are regular position players and also show up on special teams in coverage and/or return situations.
Early in Alabama’s fall camp, Crimson Tide Defensive Coordinator Kirby Smart was asked about Lee. Smart said, “Dillon’s been kind of a man who can play many positions. First of all, he’s a great special teams player. Plays really hard, really physical. Dillon’s a fast player. He makes a lot of plays on special teams. He’s our starting Sam (strongside) linebacker. He can make all the adjustments. So you play a team that wants to get you in regular people, big people and spread people out, Dillon’s able to adjust to those things. He can play in space and make the calls. But he also, when you go nickel, can go to inside ’backer and compete with Reggie Ragland and Reuben Foster and Shawn Dion Hamilton and Keith Holcombe and provide some depth at that position because he’s smart enough to play those positions.”
Lee said, "I play outside in regular, so when we're in a base package I play outside linebacker. Most of the time, though, we're in sub (going against spread offense) because a lot of teams play nickel against us -- Auburn, Texas A&M, teams like that. So we're always working on that. I work with the inside linebackers in practice a lot, because it's a little different."
Lee thinks there has been improvement in special teams play this year. He said, "I think we're doing better this year than we did last year. I think last year we kind of had a down year on special teams, especially in the return game, kick return, punt return. We're really looking to improve in those areas and flip the field position and get higher up in the return game rankings."
Lee had his best season statistically last year with 24 tackles. He has 41 in his career. He also has one interception, which he collected in his first game as a freshman. That game was against a Big Ten power – Michigan – in the Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Coincidentally, that will be the site of Bama’s first year when the Crimson Tide takes on another Big Ten power – Wisconsin – on Sept. 5.
But Lee hasn’t started thinking about Wisconsin. “Not yet,” he said. “We’re still working on us, trying to get better every day, working on fundamentals. The defense specifically, working on being able to get turnovers, get off the field on third down better; just competing with the offense every day."
Alabama finished one phase of preseason practice with its second and final scrimmage last Saturday. Lee said, "I think we did good. We didn't get as many turnovers as we were hoping for, which is something we're always trying to do and get better at. I think however many it is, it's never enough. You can always do better."
Following that scrimmage he said there is a little different feeling about preseason work. “People kind of take a deep breath, like a sigh of relief that you made it through fall camp,” he said. “You know we're going to start getting into season practices which are a little shorter and it's always more fun. You always get tired of practicing against your own team every day, going good-on-good and banging against your teammates every day. It'll be exciting to get an opponent and start working on it."