Our series examining the status of every Alabama football position prior to the start of spring practice on March 11 (tentative) now moves to linebacker. Among the things to keep in mind in considering the linebacker situation are these:
Alabama ordinarily has four linebackers in the game, two outside linebackers (Jack and Strongside, or Sam), two inside linebackers (Middle, or Mike, and Weakside, or Will). While there are similarities in all linebacker positions, there are also differences in assignments and techniques.
Also to be noted is that some men are capable of playing at more than one linebacker position, not only both inside spots or both outside spots, but also one or more inside and outside linebacker slots.
Finally, it is relevant that linebackers are frequently the leading tacklers for Alabama’s defense, such as Reggie Ragland having a team-leading 102 tackles in Bama’s 2015 national championship season, and Reuben Foster ranking second with 73.
This is a look at the inside linebacker spots as Bama begins work on the 2016 season.
Ragland and Foster were the starting inside linebackers last year, Ragland at middle and Foster at weakside. Alabama has lost Ragland after four very productive years in which he played in 52 games and over the past two years started 27 of them. He was a unanimous 2015 All-America and Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year, and many predict him to be the first linebacker selected in this year’s NFL draft.
Although Dillon Lee was known primarily for being an outside linebacker (Sam), he was also the top back-up to Ragland and the starter at Mike in certain situations, and he, too, has finished his Tide career.
Ragland was a weakside linebacker playing alongside C.J. Mosley in 2014, but when Mosley moved on to the NFL, Ragland moved to Mike, the position that historically is the signal-caller for the defensive front. Ragland was excellent in this phase of the game, getting everyone in the right position on each play.
Many expected Reuben Foster to forego his senior season for a try at the NFL, but like Mosley and Ragland before him, he elected to return. Now Foster (6-1, 240, senior) can be expected to inherit Ragland’s role at middle linebacker. Foster had 8 tckles for lost yardage last year, including 2 sacks. He also broke up 9 passes, second best for Bama, and had 3 quarterback pressures.
There is guesswork involved in which of the linebacker candidates might end up at an inside position, and more still in predicting which men might be at Will and which at Mike.
The most experienced inside linebacker returning behind Foster is Shaun-Dion Hamilton (6-0, 229, junior). He played in all 15 games last year and was in on 27 tackles. Last year Foster started 9 games and Hamilton 5.
Keith Holcombe (6-4, 223, sophomore) played in every game last year, most often on special teams. The son of former Bama offensive lineman Danny Holcombe, Keith is an outstanding athlete who is participating with the Tide baseball team as a left fielder this spring (though he’ll miss baseball for football practice). He is best remembered from last season for his block of a Florida punt in the end zone that got the Tide off to a 2-0 lead in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game.
There are other family connections at inside linebacker. Walker Jones (6-2, 240, junior) is the son and brother of former Tide athletes, including All-America center Barrett Jones. Jamey Mosley (6-5, 221, sophomore) is the brother of former All-America linebacker C.J. Mosley.
The inside linebacker corps also includes two redshirt freshmen -- Joshua McMillon (6-2, 240) and Adonis Thomas (6-2, 228).
There are also two walk-ons on the bowl roster with eligibility remaining who are expected to compete in the spring. Gussie Busch (5-11, 205) is a redshirt freshman and Derrick Garnett (6-1, 250) is a junior.
NEXT: Our examination of Alabama football positions will look at the outside linebackers.