Jordan Working To Fill Opening

It's good news that Dont'a Hightower is back. Sure, Nico Johnson did a nice job of stepping up last season. Courtney Upshaw had a handful of highlight plays in 2009. Nevertheless, it's hard to ignore the rebuilding job that must be done in the linebacking corps for the Crimson Tide this spring.

Alabama losses at linebacker are among the most important from the Crimson Tide team that was a national defensive leader and undefeated and national champion last season. Rolando McClain, the Butkus Award winner and the "quarterback" of the defense from his middle linebacker (Mike) position, is headed for a first round NFL contract. Versatile Cory Reamer has finished his career at strongside (Sam) linebacker, as has big play Jack linebacker Eryk Anders.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban and Defensive Coordinator Kirby Smart (who is now coaching inside linebackers after previously having worked in the secondary) are working with the assets at linebacker as the Crimson Tide approaches the halfway mark of spring football practice.

Alabama is scheduled to have its seventh practice, a work in shells (helmets and shoulder pads) Wednesday and its first scrimmage of the spring Friday. The 15th and final practice of spring training will be the A-Day Game at 2 p.m. CDT Saturday, April 17, at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Junior Chris Jordan (6-3, 232) of Brentwood Academy in Tennessee is among the candidates for a linebacking spot. Which one, though, is a question.

"Coach Saban is having a lot of moving around in the linebacking corps, trying to get the right fit, see who looks best on the inside," Jordan said. "So far, it's going real well."

Jordan doesn't know where he might end up. "Everybody's moving around," he said. "Mike, Will (weakside, which is an inside position), Money (a coverage position).

"I'm pretty much everywhere right now."

Most projections of the inside linebacker positions have Nico Johnson, who took over after Dont'a Hightower's injury last year, being number one at Will, and Hightower sliding into Rolando McClain's spot at Mike, with Jordan adding depth on the inside.

Jordan said, "I really don't know where I'll end up, but I'm pretty sure Coach Saban will put me where the best fit is."

He said that he had thought of himself as an inside linebacker, at either Mike or Will, but the spring experimentation has given him a new perspective. "I've grown accustomed to the Mike," he said, "but (Monday) I practiced at the Sam (an outside linebacker position) and that was a different look. I kind of liked it, because every play you are hitting someone – contact – so a different feel."
Jordan thinks the final product at linebacker can be good. "I feel confident about it," he said. "As long as everyone learns the game plan and we do what the coaches tell us to do and go out there and give 100 per cent, I feel real confident with our inside linebacking corps."

Jordan came to Alabama as potentially a running back, but has had all his experience on defense and special teams. Indeed, most of his playing time has been on kicking teams. His linebacker play has been primarily in mop-up duty. He said that he missed being a running back when he was first moved, but he is past that. "I'm a physical guy, so I like defense," he said.

So does he feel experienced or untested?

"I'd say about half and half with that," he said. "I played in some games, but it wasn't like in big-time SEC games. I'm sure it will be a different atmosphere playing in SEC games and having better competition to go against."

As much as Alabama will miss Rolando McClain as a player, the Crimson Tide has to replace McClain the leader. Jordan said he learned a lot from McClain. "He's a good role model, a good guy," Jordan said. "If you need help, he'll come and sit down with you and help out with schemes. He's like Coach Saban on the field."

Jordan hasn't been able to talk to McClain as much since McClain has been on the pro tryout circuit, but intends to stay in touch with the former Bama star.

Jordan understands the difficulty in replacing McClain the defensive "quarterback." He said, "As far as calls and coverages, I'm right there. I know what calls to make. Ro played at a different level. He could see the play before it happened. I have to sharpen my instincts to be as good as Ro. He was a brilliant guy on the field."

To do that, he said, calls for "a lot of film work, studying, becoming a student of the game."

The linebackers will also have new players in front of them on the defensive line this year. Jordan said the linemen are "looking good. They are working hard every practice. They are good guys. Some people need more work than others, but overall everyone working hard trying to get better."

He has also been impressed with some new linebackers. Jalston Fowler, a true freshman, and Petey Smith, a grayshirt, have both joined the Tide this spring.

"Fowler is learning real fast after moving from running back, like I did. He's real instinctive. He's going to be a good player. Petey is learning pretty fast, too, but he moved to one of the hardest positions on the field, the Mike, because you have to be so vocal. They are going to come around."

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