The atmosphere is heavy with the ambience of college football, which is now right around the corner. It has been a long time since we’ve been able to descry a football in the air. And while it may have felt a lot longer than usual due to the uncertainty surrounding the 2020 season, it is finally almost upon us.
The entire team from top to bottom this season is rife with talent, experience, and passion. From the big boys up front, to the skill positions out wide, this team is poised to be among the best of Coach Saban’s tenure. This piece is an analysis of my personal favorite group: the linebackers. I believe this position group contains the most potential, the most talent, and has the best chance to improve on a lackluster 2019 campaign defensively. I will analyze the linebackers based off of what I have seen so far during Fall camp, and past performance. These are my predictions for Alabama’s starting linebacker corp:
Jack (EDGE): Christopher Allen
Christopher Allen (RS Jr) entered Tuscaloosa as the No. 14 outside linebacker in the 2017 class. Since his arrival, his playing time has been limited due to a stacked outside linebacking unit as well as a season-ending injury. He appeared in 7 games during his Freshman year. Allen was able to generate a buzz in the Spring of 2018 as a promising pass-rusher. However, his breakout season was cut short before it began during Fall camp, becoming one of several Tide players that have suffered ACL injuries over the years during Scott Cochran’s tenure as S&C coach. He took a redshirt for the 2018 season. 2019 was a decent year back for Allen, racking up 11 total tackles and 0.5 sacks during his limited time on the field. Defensive coordinator Pete Goulding has previously said that Allen understands the defensive playbook and plays smart. Allen excels at setting the edge in the running game, and moves very well for his size. Allen has been putting in reps with group 1 on defense and looks faster, more agile, and 100% healthy.
Sam (Strong-Side): King Mwikuta
King Mwikuta (RS Fr) stands tall at 6-5, with a figurative ton of muscle and plenty of mass, weighing in at 240 pounds. He came in as a 4-star weak side defensive end, ranked #9 at that position in the nation. King had to transition from a 4-3 defense in high school to the base 2-gap 3-4 that Alabama utilizes. Coach Saban recognized that Mwikuta has the frame and talent to switch to outside linebacker in his system. He has shown an extraordinary ability to blow by opposing linemen as an edge rusher, and is flexible enough to run the arc and dip/bend around the edge. His technique appears raw, but his usage of hands is outstanding. Has shown improvement in strength at the point of attack, and will no doubt be a focal point of Alabama’s defense in the near future. Our own Ricky Green informed Tide fans to keep a lookout for King Mwikuto in our 4th Fall camp report.
Mike (Middle): Dylan Moses
Dylan Moses (RS Jr) was a phenom in high school, attending the elite IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL. He is 6-3, and 240 pounds. He caught the eye of legendary coach Saban right away upon arrival to campus, as he earned two starts in 11 games as a freshman in 2017. He racked up 30 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, a pick, and a forced fumble during those games. Although his time in the lineup was cut short in 2017, Moses’ impact was evident and indicative of a young player on the cusp of stardom. As an encore, Moses showed his versatility and played inside and outside linebacker for the Tide in 2018. The sophomore was all over the field, recording 86 tackles, including ten for a loss, 3.5 sacks, one pass deflection, and a forced fumble. He was highly impactful and a serious difference-maker for the front seven. 2019 was poised to become the best of Moses’ career at Bama, but it was cut short due to an ACL injury. In 2020, he appears to be back with a vengeance. He has exhibited improved agility, has become a more vocal leader of the defense, and has seemed to have gotten faster over the offseason.
Will (Weak Side): Christian Harris
Christian Harris (So) was the 6th best inside linebacker in the class of 2019. As a true freshman he appeared in 12 games, recording 61 total tackles and 7.5 for a loss. He boasts a thick frame, fully filled out, with long arms and big hands. Most of his weight consists of muscle, very little bad weight. He is highly athletic, and very versatile. He has the ability to play multiple positions if the need arises.
Those were the guys that I predict will be the starters at all linebacker positions, plus a brief analysis of their skills. I’m not perfect, so I could be wrong. In any case, I’ll go into brief detail on a couple of other guys that could make a strong push during Fall camp and steal a starting job, or at the very least earn some nickel and dime package or situational playing time.
Fighting For A Starting Job
Ben Davis (RS Sr) is a former 5-star that, as of now, hasn’t reached his full potential. Davis hails from Gordo, AL, and boasts a 6-4, 243 pound frame. He has only participated in 14 games during his tenure at Alabama, partly due to a stacked linebacker group throughout his career. He hasn’t quite lived up to his 5-star expectations, but he has an opportunity to earn significant playing time at either Sam or Jack.
Shane Lee (So) is a 6 foot, 245 pound sophomore. As a freshman, he was catapulted into the starting role due to injuries to Dylan Moses and Anfernee Jennings. It was statistically a successful season for Lee, finishing second on the team in tackles with 86 while also adding 6.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, one interception, three quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles. While he made several plays, there is a lot to be corrected. This can be expected from a first-year player. His change of direction and general fluidity needs improvement, but it can all be hashed out. I expect him to play a big role in situational downs.
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Layne Gerbig covers all sports at The University of Alabama for Tide Talk Sports. Follow him on Twitter @DeutscheBammer, and don’t forget to check back on this website for regular updates!