Football Fight: Weakside Linebacker

Before a curious event in late May, there was no doubt about the role of Juwan Simpson on Alabama's 2006 football team. Simpson was definitely a defensive leader, one of only four returning starters on defense; a role model off the field and in the classroom, where he had already earned his degree in Financial Planning and begun work on a second in Criminal Justice.

And then Juwan Simpson was the object of a traffic stop by something called the Violent Crimes Task Force of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department. There was a search of his vehicle and Simpson was charged with possession of marijuana and receipt of a stolen pistol. Those charges may be misdemeanors in the legal system, but they are high crimes to a football coach.

Later in court the marijuana charge was handled by Simpson agreeing to educational and community service obligations. His attorney expects the gun charge to be handled expeditiously and favorably.

But nothing the courts dispense can affect Alabama football the way Mike Shula justice can. And unlike the law, Shula doesn't have to announce or explain anything to the public. It will be (perhaps has been) between Shula and Simpson with the players and coaches probably apprised.

The general public may or may not be informed. If there is a suspension, Shula history is that it will be announced at a time of his choosing, perhaps at kickoff of a game, perhaps following a game. Perhaps.

A guess is that Simpson, a 6-3, 222-pound senior who has been a starter at weakside linebacker at the beginning of the past two seasons, won't start (or even play) against Hawaii in Bama's season-opener on September 2. But that could prove to be an off-the-mark guess. Simpson's teammates indicate he has had extra work this summer.

Regardless of where Simpson is on opening day, it's hard to believe based on what has been revealed that he would have a long-term suspension. When Alabama is in the thick of the Southeastern Conference schedule, look for Simpson to be at weakside linebacker.

After being redshirted in 2002, Simpson saw action in every game (and three starts) in 2003; started the first five games of 2004 before suffering a shoulder injury that limited him the rest of the season; and was a 12-game starter in Bama's 10-2 season last year, giving him 21 career starts. He was fourth on the team in tackles last year with 64 and is Bama's top man in tackles returning. He had six tackles for loss, was in on two sacks, and had two interceptions.

One of the strengths of Alabama's spring practice this year was that Demarcus Waldrop, a back-up weakside linebacker, also got some work at strongside linebacker. But that role for Waldrop may have disappeared, at least temporarily, if Simpson is not on the playing field.

Waldrop is undersized for a linebacker, but the 5-11, 190-pound junior has a history of getting the job done. That's partly because he has excellent speed (he was a prep track star) and instincts. After being redshirted in 2003, he has played in every game the past two years.

The third man at weakside linebacker (so named because he plays on the side of the offense's weak side, usually the side without a tight end) in the spring was Marcel Stamps, the former wide receiver who has been primarily a special teams player the past couple of years. Stamps is a 6-3, 203-pound junior.

Simpson isn't the only casualty at weakside linebacker going into the 2006 season. Early this summer it was announced that Chris Keys, a promising sophomore who had seen limited duty at safety as a true freshman last year, had been dismissed from the team for violation of an unspecified team rule.

And in projecting incoming freshmen at positions, we had listed LaBronski Hutchins of Alexander City as a likely weakside linebacker candidate. (We projected Charlie Kirschman, 6-3, 255, at middle linebacker and Charlie Higgenbotham, 6-1, 210, at strongside linebacker.) But Hutchins is reportedly academically ineligible to enter Alabama this fall.

Editor's Note: This is one in a summer series of examinations of the Alabama football depth chart position-by-position.

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