Joshua McMillon

Alabama linebacker Joshua McMillon has his eyes on quarterback Tua Tagovailoa during the Crimson Tide's A-Day spring game.

TUSCALOOSA — Soft-spoken by nature, Joshua McMillon approached his first — and very likely only — team-sanctioned media availability much like he did his final season at Alabama: by keeping everything in perspective.

“I would say it’s kind of the same. I try to stick to my same values — keep God first, stay good in school, be the great teammate,” McMillon said last Thursday. “With certain players leaving the defense, coaches ask everyone to step up and lead and I’m just trying to do my best to step up and encourage everyone else around me, step up and make the calls and make the plays.”

And, after four years of biding his time behind some serious talent at his position, McMillon entered preseason camp as the favorite to open the season as the Crimson Tide’s first-team Will linebacker, due in large part to his general experience compared to others and superior knowledge of the defense.

Unfortunately, McMillon’s run as a starting linebacker at Alabama ended before it ever began after the redshirt senior from Memphis suffered a significant right knee injury in Saturday’s preseason scrimmage that will require surgery and “keep him out for an indefinite period” of time, according to head coach Nick Saban.

“Josh McMillon suffered an injury to his right knee Saturday that will require surgery, and keep him out for an indefinite period,” Saban said in a statement Monday. “We have a great medical staff here and he will have the full support of everyone in the organization as he goes through the rehab process. We are confident Josh will make a full recovery.”

Although Saban didn’t get into specifics regarding that recovery, McMillon’s injury is believed to have season-long implications, according to a Sunday night report from AL.com, though there appears to be some hope for a potential end-of-year return should the rehab process go smoothly.

Regardless, McMillon’s absence is one that will have a wide-ranging effect, especially as it relates to the Crimson Tide’s depth at inside linebacker. Beyond returning junior starter Dylan Moses, who slides over from Will to the Mike/middle ‘backer role that was manned by Montgomery’s Lyndell “Mack” Wilson last season, Alabama is quite thin on quality experience at the position.

Behind Moses, who appeared in 716 total plays last season according to SportSource Analytics, McMillon was the next closest returning contributor at inside linebacker with just 96 total plays in 2018, though only nine of those plays occurred over the final nine games, including five games in which he did not even participate on defense.

Meanwhile, the next man up now is redshirt sophomore Markail Benton, who registered only 83 total snaps and nine did-not-participates last season, all of coming during conference and postseason play. Fellow sophomores Ale Kaho and Jaylen Moody also saw minimal defensive reps last season, with most of their opportunities coming on special teams.

Then there’s a pair of talented true freshmen that could see elevated opportunities with McMillon out, including early enrollee Shane Lee and summer addition Christian Harris, two four-star 2019 signees that tip the scales around 245 pounds and stand between 6-foot and 6-2, respectively. Lee impressed during spring practice and even led the Crimson/second-team defense with eight tackles and an interception of backup quarterback Mac Jones during the A-Day spring game in April.

“All the (young) guys, they came in and showed good progress,” McMillon said last week. “They’re all doing a great job. Trying to learn the playbook. They’re breaking down the plays, getting extra film in. They come to me to ask questions, they go to the other guys to ask questions. So, they’re doing a real good job.”

With McMillon unavailable for an “indefinite” time frame, don’t be surprised if the Alabama coaching staff does some moving and shaking within the linebacker corps. That could include potentially bringing redshirt junior Ben Davis back into the fold at inside linebacker.

Davis, the former five-star Gordo product who was the nation’s No. 1 inside linebacker in the 2016 recruiting class according to the 247Sports.com composite rankings, hasn’t seen much of the field through his first three seasons in Tuscaloosa but has seemingly developed enough to earn quality second-team reps at outside linebacker this preseason. The 6-foot-4 and 243-pounder is the son of Alabama’s all-time leading tackler Wayne Davis and has the necessary athleticism to play the Will spot should he be called upon in a crunch.

Of course, given a similar lack of depth at outside linebacker following the pre-preseason departure of former five-star sophomore Eyabi Anoma to Houston, the Crimson Tide defense could be forced to simply rely on its youth on the inside and hope the trial-by-fire, early-season experience during a soft non-conference slate helps them develop quickly enough to make an impact once SEC play begins.

“For me, I feel like that’s why we preach to the guys to stay ready, you never know what could happen,” redshirt junior outside linebacker Terrell Lewis said Monday. “Because you might not see it right now, like, ‘Oh I’m not going to be playing, or I’m not starting,’ but you can’t look at it like that. Be prepared because one day you might just get thrown in the fire.”

That’s where McMillon can still contribute, even from the sideline, as he and other Alabama veterans continue to provide the younger linebackers quality assistance and guidance throughout their further development this season. After all, it’s all about the next man up.

“I feel like each and every one of them came in and did a real good job,” McMillon said. “Me and Dylan, it was the whole linebacker corps. We tried to get in there with them and coach them up and make sure they know what they’re doing and what they’re supposed to do to try and keep the ball rolling.”

Loading...
Loading...