In a piece on redshirt sophomore linebacker Chris Jordan that appeared in the Tuscaloosa News, Nick Saban was quoted as saying the following on Jordan and the status of the linebacker corps:
"I think we have three linebackers right now that are a little bit ahead of the rest. He would be one of those three guys. He’s definitely going to have a role on the team."
I don't think you need to have a wiretap on the phone lines running in and out of the coaching offices to figure out which three players Saban was referring to. With no doubt, he was referring to Dont'a Hightower, Chris Jordan, and Courtney Upshaw.
Having Hightower and Upshaw as definite cornerstones of the linebacker corps is no surprise, of course. Hightower needs no explanation, and after a strong spring practice I don't think anyone has seriously argued that Upshaw was in jeopardy of losing the starting position at Jack linebacker. In terms of grasp on starting positions, Hightower and Upshaw are probably as secure as anyone on the team.
However, Jordan was a bit less certain, and if you really do pencil him in at the Will position -- which is clearly what Saban seems to be indicating here -- then that really narrows everything else down. Jerrell Harris moved inside after the second scrimmage, and Nico Johnson has been working inside as well. Both of those guys were competing with Jordan for playing time at the Will position, but if Jordan gets the spot then obviously both Harris and Johnson are relegated to back-up roles.
In other words, it seems that as of right now, the starting linebacker corps has Hightower at Mike, Jordan at Will, Upshaw at Jack, and either Chavis Williams or Jonathan Atchison at Sam.
And another twist, keep in mind that we will be using Hightower as an edge rusher a good bit this year, particularly in passing situations. When we do that, we'll need someone to slide over to play the Mike position and call the defense. Jordan has been taking reps as the second-team Mike linebacker, and even Saban mentioned him taking over the position at times:
"Having a guy that can sort of assume the role that Dont’a has when we want to rush him or make him another position guy, is really critical. I think Chris could maybe be that guy and probably more."
Think about all that for a moment. Hightower will be an every down player for obvious reasons. Courtney Upshaw will be an every down player as well, as he will just move down to the line of scrimmage in passing situations. And with Jordan being the starter at Will and presumably moving over to play Mike when we use Hightower as an edge rusher in passing situations, he certainly seems like an every down player as well. Combined, that gives you three linebackers who are going to be on the field in almost all situations, which means that it would be the starting Sam (i.e. likely Williams or Atchison) that will go off the field once we go to nickel and dime packages. That still leaves some playing time for others to grab, but even so it seems like these three will be getting the bulk of the snaps with everyone else largely fighting for the leftovers.