Is This Answer To Shortage At Linebacker?

People go to different places to get their sports news. For many Alabama fans, ‘BAMA Magazine and BamaMag.com are good sources. One place I have gotten interesting and sometimes reliable information over the years is at a shoeshine shop a couple of blocks from my office.

The young men who do a nice job on footwear are Alabama fans, and they are connected, particularly in football and basketball. When I dropped by the other day I got the usual questions about the prospects for the upcoming season.

And I gave the usual answer: the offense should be very good, but the defense looks to have some holes.

They weren't buying it.

"The defense is going to be just fine," Freddie assured me as he snapped a rag on the toe of a tassel loafer.

And he told me why.

"Jimmy Johns is going to be starting at linebacker."

Jimmy Johns to linebacker has been the agenda of many Alabama followers for at least a year. In a way, it is understandable. Johns is an outstanding athlete, one of the best on the Crimson Tide football team. He was a back-up tailback and special teams star for Bama as a freshman. Last year he was the number two tailback for Alabama and continued to participate on special teams.

He came to Alabama with outstanding credentials, Mr. Football in Mississippi after quarterbacking his Brookhaven team to the Class 4A championship. As a senior he passed for 2,173 yards and rushed for 1,394 yards and accounted for 44 touchdowns (24 passing, 20 rushing). He was also a track (high hurdles) and field (discus) state champion.

As a freshman he was the Tide's second leading rusher with 202 yards on 38 carries, but is best remembered for a fumble-causing tackle on kickoff coverage against Mississippi State, resulting in a key touchdown. Last year he was the second leading Tide rusher with 293 yards on 66 carries and also played on special teams.

I told the shoeshine men they might be right, that Johns might move to linebacker this year. I have no doubt he could do the job. But there are two things to keep in mind, I said.

One is that Alabama Coach Nick Saban, like most coaches, doesn't move a player unless that player wants to move. (Granted, some coaches – Paul Bryant was a master—can make the player think it is his idea to move.) The logical reason for this stance is that a man probably won't do his best if he doesn't want to do the job.

The second thing is that I interviewed Johns after his freshman year. He told me that he didn't mind not getting a chance to play quarterback, that he was fine with tailback. He also told me he had volunteered to play on special teams because he thought that was a way to get on the field in a hurry.

He added, "But if you ever see me playing linebacker, I didn't volunteer for that."

No problem. "That (incoming) freshman," Freddie said. "Rolando McClain. He'll be starting linebacker by mid-season."


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