Alabama's defensive coordinator Kirby Smart took the podium last year, during the program's football fan day on Aug. 3, 2014. He addressed concerns at inside linebacker, after losing C.J. Mosley, Adrian Hubbard and Tana Patrick to the National Football League. Smart and head coach Nick Saban possibly had two players that could handle the role, one of which was senior Trey DePriest.
Prior to last season, Reggie Ragland was a solid contributor on special teams. He learned a lot from C.J. Mosley, but Alabama didn't quite know what it had in Ragland. He emerged as a playmaker in 2014, totaling 95 tackles with 10.5 stops for loss. Ragland was sound against the run, and decent in pass coverage with three pass breakups and an interception. He's been named to multiple preseason award watch lists, and has earned an opportunity to play inside this fall. Ragland chose to return to Alabama instead of going pro.
Crimson Tide fans may finally see junior linebacker Reuben Foster emerge as an every down player. The 6-foot-1, 240-pound Foster is known as a thumper on special teams, however, his biggest trademark has led to injuries in the last two seasons. Smart and Saban have both trained him on how to be level when making tackles in space. He avoided injuries all spring, and looks to be an impact player on defense. Foster totaled 22 tackles and a sack in 11 games last season. Strength is important, yet it takes instincts to be a dynamic inside linebacker.
Sophomore linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton will have a chance to showcase his knowledge this fall. He's currently Alabama's inside linebacker in its base 3-4 defense, while Foster assumes the role when the team is in its nickel and dime packages. Hamilton appeared in all 14 games as a true freshman last season, collecting three tackles. He graduated Valedictorian of Carver High School in Montgomery, Ala., despite being a January 2014 enrollee at Alabama. Hamilton recorded 119 tackles, four sacks, three interceptions, six forced fumbles and a blocked punt as a senior in 2013. He entered Alabama a four-star recruit. He played outside linebacker throughout his high school career at Hillcrest (Tuscaloosa, Ala.), but redshirt freshman Keith Holcombe has been seen more so at inside linebacker during practices.
Holcombe, like Hamilton, has absorbed the system and looks for field time in 2015. He enrolled at Alabama as a four-star prospect, after having a phenomenal senior year in 2013. Holcombe tallied 128 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception. Coach Saban is all about depth, and at inside linebacker, it's a position that needs fresh legs. Ragland shocked many in 2014 with his skill set, but now it's time for Foster, Hamilton and Holcombe to help him make the defense effective against spread offenses this season.
Stephen M. Smith is a staff writer and columnist for Touchdown Alabama Magazine, Pick Six Previews and SB Nation. You can "like" him on Facebook or "follow" him on Twitter,via @ESPN_Future.