It is not a new phenomenon that fast can be better than big. Paul Bryant’s Alabama football teams of the 1960s were famous for being the small, quick guys who handed it to the big boys. Muhammad Ali floated like a butterfly to the world heavyweight championship.
But in this day of 250-pound middle linebackers, it is a mild surprise that Reuben Foster has slimmed down for his senior year of Alabama football. “The game is getting faster,” he said. “I’m trying to build muscle, getting more lean; speed, agility, footwork.”
And how much has he slimmed down?
“A lot,” he said. “I’m like 225.”
That’s 15 pounds under his 2015 season playing weight, and 10 pounds below what he weighed during spring practice.
Foster, who is making the slight adjustment from weakside linebacker to middle linebacker this year, and his coaches thought that a leaner Foster might be more effective. He said he went under the direction of “Miss Amy,” who is Director of Performance Nutrition Amy Bragg.
He said that meant “Eating healthier, times to eat from like late at night from the daytime, the mornings, don’t eat too heavy in the morning, and all that.”
Foster, 6-foot-1, said that he is more explosive and faster, and an added benefit to the healthy diet has been some important physical improvement.
“Knees not hurting, back not hurting,” he said. “It feels great.”
Foster said he is not alone in slimming down. “Most of us (on the defense) are losing weight,” he said. The result is the players are faster from sideline to sideline and more explosive.
“The whole defense is explosive,” Foster said. “Not just the inside linebackers.”
That’s not the only good sign for the defense. Foster said the strength is “Our mentality is our bond on defense that holds us together.”
Although he said “It’s too early in camp to figure out just where we stand, we’re focusing on getting better. Practice has been great; getting everything squared away.”
Foster may have slimmed down physically, but he’ll have an expanded role in this year’s defense as he moves into the spot vacated by Reggie Ragland. Last year Ragland was not only the emotional leader of the defense, he was also the leading tackler. Foster, who played next to Ragland in the middle of the defense, was second to Ragland in tackles with 48 primary stops and 25 assists. He had eight tackles for 24 yards in losses, including two sacks. He broke up nine passes (second only to Minkah Fitzpatrick) and had three quarterback pressures.
He said there were many things he learned from Ragland, including “hitting, fighting through, and focusing on others.”
The hitting and the fighting through adversity come naturally to Foster. The ability to focus on others – to know how to get everyone in place presnap – will be important as he takes over that defensive responsibility.
Foster embraces that new role. “It feels great,” he said, “knowing somebody has trust in me to give me that leadership role. It feels great that the boys feel comfortable with me telling them what to do.
"It feels great knowing what to do. Like you don't have any anxiety, nothing. You feel free. You love the game of football. You worship it. It's great. You just can line your boys up anywhere and just get the plan."
As for the “fight, fight, fight” in football, Foster said, “You don’t give up. You fight for a reason. Know your ‘why.’ Coach Saban says, ‘You’ve got to know your why.’ That’s our motto.”
It is difficult to think of Reuben Foster and not think of the problems he had in his first two seasons with “stingers” – neck and shoulder problems suffered in his tackles. “It was stressful,” Foster said.
Last year he was basically stinger-free as he mastered the fundamentals of tackling – “lead with your shoulder, see what you hit, and explode out of your hips.”