Tide Linebackers Have Potential

The cynic defines one with "potential" as a euphemism for one who hasn't done anything. That's harsh. Part of building a team is developing the potential of players. Alabama has a few linebackers who have done something, and a handful who would be described as having potential. The main thing missing is experience.

Here's a look at what might be in store at the linebacker positions for Alabama this spring.

Alabama begins spring football practice Friday, March 12, and an emphasis of interest will be Bama's efforts to rebuild an outstanding linebacker corps. As with the secondary, the Crimson Tide lost three of four starters from the 2009 National Championship team. Among those lose is Rolando McClain, who won the both the Butkus Award and the Lambert Trophy as the nation's finest linebacker.

Also as with the secondary, the coaching situation has not been made public. James Willis, who coached inside linebackers for Bama last year, has gone to Texas Tech as defensive coordinator. His place on the staff has been filled by Jeremy Pruitt, who has been introduced not as a linebackers coach, but rather as a "defensive assistant." Tide Head Coach Nick Saban no doubt has made a determination of coaching assignments. Sal Sunseri returns to the staff after having coached outside linebackers last year.

Alabama is listed as having a 3-4 defense, meaning four linebackers, although that is not always the case since Bama frequently has five defensive backs with either a defensive lineman or a linebacker dropped from the scheme. But those four linebacker positions are Sam (strongside) and Jack, which are both outside linebacker positions; and Mike (middle) and Will (weakside), which are both inside spots.

Dont'a Hightower, who started last season as the number one Will linebacker alongside Mike linebacker McClain, is expected back in the fall, but is not scheduled for any contact work in the spring as he continues to rehabilitate from surgery following a knee injury in the third game of last season. Hightower has also had experimentation as an outside linebacker and is an outstanding pass rusher.

Hightower's spot in the lineup eventually went to Nico Johnson, 6-3, 225, an upcoming sophomore. Johnson would be considered a leader at one of the inside spots. A true freshman last year, Johnson was Freshman All-Southeastern Conference. He was involved in 27 tackles, including five for lost yardage, and had a sack, caused a fumble, and broke up two passes.

Junior Chris Jordan, 6-2, 230, has been primarily a special teams player. He was involved in 12 tackles last year, including six against North Texas when coaches selected him Special Teams Player of the Week. He has some game experience as an inside linebacker. Two other scholarshipped inside linebackers have no experience. Tana Patrick, 6-3, 235, is a redshirt freshman. Petey Smith, 6-1, 245, joined the Tide for winter workouts after having been a grayshirt in 2009.

A couple of walk-ons are involved at inside linebacker. They are senior Michael DeJohn, 6-0, 220, and junior DeMarcus DuBose, 6-1, 230.

The last vision most Tide fans have of Courtney Upshaw, a 6-2, 249-pound junior, is Upshaw falling on a Texas fumble at the Longhorns' three-yard line with three minutes to play in the national championship game. That fumble was caused by graduated Jack linebacker Eryk Anders. Upshaw is expected to man that Jack outside spot in competition this spring. Upshaw's career highlights also include picking off a fumble caused by McClain against Kentucky and returning it 45 yards for a touchdown.

Others listed with Upshaw at Jack this spring could include junior Alex Watkins, 6-3, 225, and redshirt freshmen Ed Stinson, 6-4, 240, and Jonathan Atchison, 6-2, 235.

Also lost from the 2009 starting linebacker group was versatile Cory Reamer, who could fill in at an inside spot, but was primarily Bama's Sam linebacker. In the old dictionary joke, ome would say if you looked up potential you'd find a picture of Jerrell Harris, a 6-3, 215-pound junior. Harris had his season shortened last year when he was suspended for the first six games because of a rules violation. Harris is expected to work at Sam, along with senior Chavis Williams, 6-4, 223, and, perhaps, walk-on junior Drew Bullard, 6-3, 240.

Alabama concludes spring practice at 2 p.m. CDT Saturday, April 17, at Bryant-Denny Stadium with the A-Day Game. There is no charge for admission and the event will be nationally telecast by ESPN.

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