TUSCALOOSA — With C.J. Mosley moving on to the NFL, Alabama is left to fill a major hole in the middle of its defense.
Mosley was a do-it-all defender, so replacing him won’t be easy. Senior Trey DePriest is expected to take on the leadership role and make the calls on the field. But if Alabama is to be successful, he’ll have to raise his level of play even more especially against the pass.
Like most positions, Alabama is talented at linebacker, but doesn’t have a ton of experience. Also, the Crimson Tide doesn’t have a ton of depth at middle linebacker. Alabama must hope each of its starters remains healthy in order to give its younger players time to develop in practice and in mop up duty.
JACK — Xzavier Dickson (6-foot-3, 268 pounds, senior), Tim Williams (6-foot-3, 242 pounds, sophomore)
WILL — Reggie Ragland (6-foot-2, 257 pounds, junior), Reuben Foster (6-foot-1, 236 pounds, sophomore)
MIKE — Trey DePriest (6-foot-2, 250 pounds, senior), Shaun Dion Hamilton (6-foot, 233 pounds, freshman)
SAM — Denzel Devall (6-foot-2, 254 pounds, junior), Dillon Lee (6-foot-4, 243 pounds, junior) — OR — Ryan Anderson (6-foot-2, 258 pounds, sophomore)
Alabama’s starters are talented and outside of Reggie Ragland, each has a good bit of experience. DePriest finished third on the team in total tackles (65) and tackles for loss (7.5). Expect that number to go up. Denzel Devall tied for third on the team with three sacks. After a standout sophomore season in 2012, Xzavier Dickson’s playing time and production took a dip in 2013. Dickson hopes to rebound from a subpar year this coming season. As for Ragland, he’ll step into Mosley’s spot. Mosley led the team in tackles in each of the past two seasons. He was also selected by the team as the most valuable player in each of the past two seasons. No pressure, kid.
Dillon Lee was projected to be a starter heading into spring practice, but an arrest in April pushed him to the second-team defense on A-Day. Lee is a versatile defender who excels at getting after the quarterback while also being able to defend in space against the pass. If he’s able to stay out of trouble, he could help ease the pain of losing Mosley. Reuben Foster is as talented as they come, but he battled neck stingers during the spring which limited his reps and sidelined him for much of A-Day. If healthy, Foster is expected to play a bigger role this season. A true freshman who enrolled in January, Shaun Dion Hamilton impressed coaches and teammates with his ability to grasp the defense. Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams are pass-rushing specialists who could see the field more in certain packages.
Dion Hamilton projects to be Alabama’s next middle linebacker. But if Hamilton is playing significant snaps in 2014, it likely means one of the Tide’s older linebackers got injured or didn’t perform up to standards. With DePriest moving on after this season, expect Dion Hamilton to transition into a more prominent role in 2015. Realistically, Williams and Anderson are a year away from making a significant impact as well unless an injury occurs or they’re able to pass an older teammate on the depth chart.
Alabama loaded up on talented linebackers during the 2014 recruiting cycle. Rashaan Evans (6-foot-3, 225 pounds), Christian Miller (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) and Keith Holcombe (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) arrived in the summer. Each has the ability to play multiple linebacker spots.
“He knows the defense like I do. If he comes back like I did, he’ll evolve into that every down linebacker role so people will be able to see his true talents. They’ll see he can control the defense and be the only linebacker on the field and make all the calls.”
— C.J. Mosley on Trey DePriest before the Sugar Bowl.
Sports Writer Marq Burnett: On Twitter @Marq_Burnett.