Football Fight: Middle Linebacker

A lot of college football teams are saying "Good bye" to Mike. A half century or so ago when football players went both ways, it was not uncommon for the fullback on offense to be the middle linebacker on defense. Today, those positions are being phased out by many teams.

But not at Alabama.

The defensive coordinator at Bama is Joe Kines, who also coaches the linebackers. He has shown adaptability, playing with both three- and four-man defensive lines and with two- and three-linebacker schemes. The Crimson Tide will have five and even six defensive backs if the situation (either the general offensive philosophy of the opponent or the down, distance and location) calls for it.

The trend in many areas is to replace the middle linebacker with a rover, a hybrid outside linebacker/strong safety. Frequently, these are men who were high school defensive backs who grew too big for the secondary. But Alabama's bread and butter defense continues as the 4-3, which is four defensive linemen and three linebackers. Including a middle linebacker, Mike in football nomenclature.

Alabama has a long history of effective middle linebackers, and last year's man–Freddie Roach–was a good one. He was third in tackles with 66 for the 2006 Crimson Tide. But what most are likely to remember is that he led the team in passes broken up with nine. And also likely to be remembered is that most of those were interception opportunities which were dropped. Only late in the season was it revealed that Roach was playing with an injured hand that affected his ability to hold onto the football.

There are two factors we have looked at in our discussions of contests at various positions. One is that Alabama Head Coach Mike Shula has said often that he is anxious to have spirited competition at each position. Another is that when a starter graduates, his job frequently goes to his back-up.

At middle linebacker in 2006 there appears to be very good competition. And the job may or may not go to Roach's 2005 back-up.

Matt Collins, a 6-1, 241-pound junior, was the back-up to Roach last year, and he goes into fall work with a slight edge for the starting job at middle linebacker. That edge is based on his experience. As a freshman in 2004, Collins saw action in every game on special teams. Last year he was the number two Mike linebacker, getting in on 191 snaps and finishing with 13 tackles. (He missed the Cotton Bowl with a knee injury, but was back on the field in the spring and had five tackles in the A-Day Game.)

By the end of spring practice, almost everyone agreed that Alabama had two first team middle linebackers. Prince Hall is a 6-0, 240-pounder who came to Bama with a reputation as being an outstanding athlete, one of the nation's top prospects both as a middle linebacker and fullback. Although he was a bit out of shape when he arrived in Tuscaloosa in August, he showed good things and the Crimson Tide staff came very close on several occasions to taking the red shirt off him and putting him into action. But he wasn't used and now enters his second season with four years of eligibility remaining. He was one of the spring's top performers, including making six tackles in the A-Day Game.

Also in the picture for playing time are walk-on Ken Vandervoort (6-3, 216) and transfer Darren Mustin (6-2, 240), both juniors. Mustin played at Middle Tennessee State and transferred to Alabama, sitting out last season to be eligible beginning this year.

Best bet among incoming signees to get a chance at Mike is Charlie Kirschman (6-3, 225).

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is part of a summer series in which we look at the Alabama football depth chart at each position.


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