Linebacker News Is Bad And Good
Alabama Coach Nick Saban had his regular Monday news briefing Monday and confirmed the ligament damage to sophomore linebacker Dont'a Hightower's left knee is season ending. He also announced that the eligibility of sophomore linebacker Jerrell Harris will be reinstated beginning with the seventh game of the season.
Alabama has gone 4-0 and is ranked third in the nation. This week the Crimson Tide goes to Kentucky for a Southeastern Conference game. Bama is 1-0 in conference games. Kickoff in Lexington Saturday will be at 12:21 EDT (11:21 central time) with regional television coverage on the SEC Network.
Following the Kentucky game, Bama has a game at Ole Miss. Harris will be eligible beginning with Alabama's homecoming game against South Carolina on October 17.
Saban said, "We've got to respond to the new situation and challenges that we have and the opportunity it creates for somebody else to go in and take advantage of reacting to what has happened."
When Hightower went out in the first quarter against Arkansas, Alabama put a plan for that event into place. Cory Reamer moved from strongside linebacker to Hightower's weakside position in the middle. Jake linebacker Eryk Anders moved to Reamer's spot. And Courtney Upshaw came off the bench to play at jake.
Saban said that plan worked well. "They did a good job," he said. " I don't know that we will continue that way down the road; it will be a part of what we do, but there are other players who can contribute in roles. It was what we were prepared to do in that game. The guys did a good job. All three of those contributed. Their understanding of the system and their experience allowed them to do that. Eryk (Anders) goes from one position to another. Cory (Reamer) goes from one position to another. Courtney, who is the least experienced guy, ended up playing his position, but it gave us the best chance in that particular game for what we needed to do in that game to rush the passer to get the best players on the field and they all did a good job."
That doesn't necessarily mean it's the long-term solution, Saban suggested. "I don't know that you can replace a guy that does all the things that he did," Saban said. " I think we need different roles created by different people to do different things to make up for some of the things Dont'a did and how our players respond to that will certainly go a long way in how we continue to be able to play the kind of defense that will give us a chance to have success."
Harris might factor in after he becomes eligible, but he has the disadvantage of not having practiced Alabama schemes on a regular basis since being declared ineligible.
(Harris' transgression, in keeping with policy, was not disclosed. There have been numerous unsubstantiated reports that his six-game penalty was more because of his lack of cooperation in the investigation than for the actual violation.)
Harris, 6-3, 227, was described by a teammate as "having had the light come on" during the summer. He was expected to be a factor in the lineup before being declared ineligible on the day of Alabama's season opening game against Virginia Tech in Atlanta. He played sparingly last season, then had a very good fall camp.
Asked about the potential for Harris, Saban pointed out that the Gadsden native won't be able to play for two more games. Saban said prior to the declaration of ineligibility that Harris was the back up at weakside linebacker and at the ‘money' position in passing situations.
"So he's a guy that is certainly going to be one of the guys that will be competing to take his place," Saban had. "But we have to get guys ready to play in games every week. We can't be worried about a game three weeks from now because we play games one game at a time. So we can't take reps away from a young player who needs reps to play the position and to play well in this game to get him ready for some game, South Carolina, I guess, is the first game he can come back.
"We try to do some things in practice with him individually so he can continue to develop. He did an outstanding job in fall camp. We thought he was a guy that was a potential starter that can play winning football for us but he has not gotten the reps in practice the last four weeks because of us not knowing when he would return. But it would be a plan for us to wean him back into it gradually so he's ready to go when the time goes without, sort of, robbing Peter to pay Paul and not having somebody else ready to play in the next two weeks."
Asked about the possibility of Hightower being granted a redshirt season after being injured in the first quarter of the fourth game of the season, Saban said that is a question for a later date. The coach said, "I think that's something we'll look at down the road. Half the games in the first half of the season is the rule. But Dont'a has two years of eligibility beyond this and I think after that you decide with the player whether that's something he wants to explore and do. That's when we would do it."
Alabama All-America middle linebacker Rolando McClain said, "We just keep pushing. We got a good win. Some unfortunate things happened. The fact of the matter is we still have a football season to play. We still got Kentucky, and that's our main focus."
McClain said when Hightower was injured "I didn't want to believe it. When he went down, I kind of went down. He's not just my teammate. He's like a little brother to me, and he's been like that since he got here. And when he went out, it was like a part of me went out."
But McClain said he had a responsibility to move on.
McClain said, "I don't think we're going to miss a step because Coach Saban is going to put the guy at his spot that best fits that position. I have confidence in the defense. One guy doesn't make a defense, and I don't think this is going to break us. I think we'll get better. I think everybody...is just going to have to step it up. We have good backups, and I know the guy who comes in, whoever that may be, is going to do a good job."
McClain said he wished Harris had been here for the first half of the season, "but I think we've been doing fine without him."
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