One of the most noticeable traits that determine the worth of a team is how they recover in the offseason. For the Alabama Crimson Tide, it is not uncommon for them having to replace key positions year-by-year. This offseason has been a focus of defense where finding four new secondary starters was crucial. The Alabama linebacker unit is a position group that cannot be forgotten in the remaining offseason.
Last season, the Tide was decimated at the Linebacker position due to injuries. In the first game of the season, Terrell Lewis (elbow) and Christian Miller (bicep) missed almost all the regular season. Throughout the season, Rashaan Evans (groin), Mack Wilson (foot), Dylan Moses (foot), and Anfernee Jennings (ankle) all missed multiple games but came back later in the season. Shaun Dion Hamilton fractured his kneecap after the win against LSU and missed the rest of the season. Jennings missed the National Championship against Georgia due to a knee injury in the Clemson game. The Crimson Tide are known for their wide variety of talent at the linebacker position. They are, however, not immune to unfortunate situations like injuries and player efficiencies.
Crimson Tide loses two more Linebackers in grueling offseason
Rashaan Evans and Shaun Dion Hamilton
The offseason has been cruel to Alabama in multiple areas. One of the biggest areas where the Tide took a hit was in the linebacker corps, especially at the middle linebacker position. Hamilton was a player for the Tide who played with consistency and possessed the reliability to make key tackles. Evans was a relentless pass rusher who accounted for six sacks and 13 tackles for loss. Evans would eventually become a first-round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft to the Tennessee Titans (22nd overall pick).
Throughout the Summer, the Tide would experience two more significant injuries in the linebacker corps. Senior Keith Holcombe departed from the football program to focus on his career with the Crimson Tide’s baseball team. While filling in for multiple injured players, Holcombe accounted for 40 total tackles (12th highest on the team), 5.5 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks. He was not the most talented nor the most consistent player filling for the injured Tide players. Nevertheless, the loss of his leadership and experience will hurt the Tide.
An even more devasting loss is Terrell Lewis, who tore his ACL and had major surgery on July 10th. Lewis was looking to make a huge impact for the Tide when they kick off the season against Louisville on September 1st. Unfortunately, injuries have once again halted the potential of the pass rushing specialist, which is an area the Crimson Tide needs to excel in. The Crimson Tide defense is replacing four starting defensive backs and another contributor. The secondary could use as much help in the pass defense as they can from the pass rush. Many of the Tide players and coaches are hoping that he will be back sometime in the regular season. This is wishful thinking as the ACL tear is one of the most devasting injuries to an athlete.
The New Alabama Starting Linebacker Squad
Middle linebackers Mack Wilson and Dylan Moses
With the sudden loss of two more linebackers, the Tide will need players to step up and fill in roles. Mack Wilson will finally take over the starting middle linebacker position after being a very efficient reserve for the injured Evans and Hamilton. Mack’s tenacious playing and ability to strategize offenses makes him a great leader for Nick Saban’s defense. After starting early as a Freshman last season, Dylan Moses will make the start at the other middle linebacker position. Wilson was a solid contributor for the Tide’s defense as he accounted for 40 total tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and four interceptions. Moses started out his Tide career rough but quickly shaped up and played great late in the season. He played well in the playoff wins against Clemson and Georgia. Moses shows heavy promise as he accounted for 30 total tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss last season.
DE/OLB Anfernee Jennings
Anfernee Jennings will likely be the next Alabama linebacker to be selected in the NFL when he departs. In a limited role due to injury and other shifting players, Jennings accounted for 41 total tackles and six tackles for loss last season. Now that Jennings has a permanent starting spot at the outside linebacker position, he will be a key contributor for the Alabama defense. Jennings displays a great combination of speed and quick instincts in his moves when he blitzes or rushes the passer at the line of scrimmage. While Jennings has played in a stand-up blitzing outside position, he might benefit more from a three-point stance end. NFL scouts will be looking at him all season long to determine his worth as a pass rusher. With a full offseason of hype and training as a starter, Jennings’ impact as a pass rusher will likely skyrocket.
OLB Christian Miller
With Lewis likely out of the season, all signs seem to be pointing to senior Christian Miller as the starter. Like Lewis before his injury, Miller is hoping to make a big impact for the Tide defense throughout the season. Terrell Lewis, on the other hand, pass rushes like a bull. He is quick, hard to control, and meets with extreme force. Miller is not as talented of a pass rusher as Lewis through force. However, he comes off the ball with quick enough speed to outmaneuver the offensive tackle and put pressure on the quarterback. Miller hasn’t seen many chances to excel for the Crimson Tide program due to the success of others before him. Don’t think of Christian Miller as a simple substitute or fill-in, he can excel for a Tide defense that can create turmoil on opposing offense.
There Will Need To Be Some New Contributors
While Miller is fit to take over the starting outside linebacker position, there now comes an issue of depth. The positive side of an injury-filled season last year was that multiple players received valuable experience. The losses of Lewis and Holcombe makes things more difficult, especially for those without experience. Christopher Allen, Joshua McMillion, Markail Benton, and Jamey Mosley are all linebackers that can benefit in their reserve roles. All of them do not have the experience to take over a starting role at the start of the season. Unless they blow away the competition in the remaining offseason, they will not begin the season as starters.
This could be a perfect opportunity for much younger players or incoming freshmen to prove themselves. One example is Eyabi Anoma. Anoma is the Tide’s highest-rated recruit in the 2018 recruiting class. He was rated number three overall in the 2018 recruiting class by 24/7 Sports and ESPN 300. In his final two years of high school, Anoma accounted for 21 total sacks. At 6-5, 235 pounds, Anoma presents an excellent combination of quickness, athleticism, and brute strength. The tenacious ability to get to the backfield and make open-field tackles are just a few of his strengths.
As a redshirt candidate, this would give him the opportunity for more years as a starter in the future. If, however, Anoma presents himself in the fall camp as a potential role player, he could be a starter next season. Miller is set to graduate after the 2018 season and Jennings is a candidate to leave early for the draft. The combination of those two puts Anoma in a good position in 2019.