Former Alabama outside linebacker Xzavier Dickson peaked at the right time to close out his tenure in Tuscaloosa. He had a phenomenal senior year, totaling 42 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks in 2014. His career ended with 91 tackles, 21 stops for loss and 14 sacks.
Dickson finally putting it together for a marvelous Senior performance, along with very good efforts at the NFL combine and Alabama's Pro Day, were enough to see him drafted by the New England Patriots in the seventh round (253rd overall pick.)
All eyes will be on the unsettled quarterback position this fall, but with Dickson's edge rush having departed for Boston, who takes over at the Jack linebacker spot?
The Crimson Tide totaled 32 sacks in 2014, but Lupoi looks to increase its production. This year's team is tabbed to have the best front seven nationally on defense, but it must find a pass rush specialist at jack linebacker. The move could come down to Ryan Anderson or Rashaan Evans in 2015.
Anderson, a junior, was one of the unsung heroes on defense last season. He earned Defensive Player of the Week honors from Alabama's coaching staff for his performance against Arkansas. Anderson recorded three tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery in the team's 14-13 victory over the Razorbacks. For the season, Anderson finished with 25 tackles, eight tackles for loss, three sacks, nine quarterbacks hurries and a fumble recovery in 14 games.
The 6-foot-2, 258-pound redshirt junior has quick feet and strong hands. He is a capable pass rusher, but also is an instinctive player against the run.
The player most expect to compete for playing time one that was practically penciled in as a starter the moment he committed to Alabama: Rashaan Evans.
Tide fans anticipate having the true sophomore outside linebacker unleashed upon opponents this season. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Evans is an explosive athlete on the edge. He excelled on special teams last season, accounting for 12 tackles. Evans saw action in 13 games as a true freshman, and tallying 15 tackles, two tackles for loss, three quarterback hurries and a sack.
Evans continues to learn the system under defensive coordinator Kirby Smart. His potential is such that senior inside linebacker / defensive leader Reggie Ragland didn't shy away from calling Evans a "stud." On paper, that was certainly true - Evans was a five-star prospect and one of the top outside linebackers in the class of 2014. And, like Reuben Foster before him, it was both a huge gain for the Tide (ESPN listed Evans as the No. 4 player in the state of Alabama,) while also diminishing a bitter conference opponent, as the Tide plucked Evans out of Auburn's backyard. As a senior at Auburn High School, Evans totaled 77 tackles, 43 tackles for loss, 17.5 sacks, five pass breakups, three forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and a blocked punt in 2013.
Both players have exceptional talent, and, while both bring complimentary skill sets to the field, the upperclassman Anderson may be the more polished player at this stage of his development. That said, Saban has a long history of platooning and rotating players along the front seven, and both players will see plenty of action. It would not be unsurprising at all to see Evans turned loose in those situations where he can pin his ears back and fly to the ball - that is if Ryan Anderson saved anything for him.
So, who is your starter and why?