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Meet the New Guys: Linebackers

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This is easily the best position group of this class.

Ben Davis secures his future.
Ben Davis secures his future.
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last month, we've taken a deeper look into the incoming freshmen for the offensive backfieldreceiversoffensive line, and defensive line. Today, we look at what may possibly be the position that has been the most consistently elite for Alabama since Nick Saban's arrival: linebacker. As always, I will be referencing SPARQ and athletic Z-scores freely. So if you don't know what those numbers are, stop reading this right now to check out this link.

The base defense for Alabama consists of four linebacker positions: the Sam, Will, Mike, and Jack. The Mike is the true middle linebacker, and is usually the leader who communicates with the sidelines and makes the audibles for the defense. The Will is the other middle linebacker, but also plays as the weak-side linebacker in 4-3 packages, so he is typically expected to be the best linebacker at pass coverage and attacking screens and other plays in the flats. The Sam is the least used linebacker in the Alabama defense. He is the outside linebacker who lines up near the line of scrimmage and is supposed the best run defender at the edge. Lastly, the Jack is the most famous of the positions, and is a defensive end/linebacker hybrid who tends to line up on the line of scrimmage and is typically the best pass rusher.

The linebackers are probably the most star-studded of the position groups in this recruiting class, with Ben Davis, Lyndell Wilson, and Terrell Hall all 4-5 star elite prospects. Reggie Ragland, Denzel Devall, and Dillon Lee are all vacating positions that will need to be filled. Though the depth already on campus will be tough to beat out, all of these freshmen will be vying for a role on the team.

Christian Bell, Outside Linebacker

Bell was actually a member of the 2015 class, but accepted a grayshirt and is enrolling this year. Last year, he signed as a defensive end, but only weighed about 215 pounds (smaller than most running backs). With a semester off, he has bulked up to around 240 pounds while spending the extra time as a coach for younger teams.

Pros

Bell is a speed rusher off the edge, and both lives and dies by the speed rush. He's a sprinter who can chase down a QB or running back in the backfield, and also has the quickness to get past an offensive tackle. He also commonly utilizes an impressive counter juke back to the inside if the tackle over-commits to his speed rush. He does a good job of turning around and chasing a quarterback down the field even if he gets blocked too deep past the play.

Cons

Although his offseason weight gain will go a long ways towards helping his performance, Bell is/was too small to play on the line of scrimmage. His lack of size makes him almost useless in the run game, and once an offensive lineman gets his hands on him, Bell is completely unable to get any push or shed the block. He does not use his hands to swat at an offensive lineman's arms, and relies solely on speed to beat the blocks, which will not work consistently at the college level (one of the main reasons that Tim Williams got almost no playing time in his career until this past season). He also has very poor tackling technique, often just trying to hold onto the ball carrier while hoping he falls, rather than actively taking him to the ground.

Prediction

Christian Bell was recruited to play a Jack linebacker. With Tim Williams, Rashaan Evans, and Christian Miller already on the roster as speed rush specialists, Bell will have some very talented players to learn technique from. However, their presence, coupled with his lack of size and experience, means he has very little chance of getting playing time this year. I don't think he's a good enough tackler to make a role for himself on special teams either, so he'll likely redshirt this year.

Terrell Hall, Weakside defensive end

Stars National Rank Position Rank Height Weight 40-Yard Dash 20-Yard Shuttle Vertical Jump Power Throw SPARQ Z-Score
4 64 6 6060 254 4.88 N/A N/A 40.5 N/A N/A


Hailing from the nation's capitol in Washington, D.C., Terrell Hall is a monster specimen who is just as likely to end up playing as a true defensive lineman as he is a Jack linebacker. Though he did not go through all of Nike's tests to record a SPARQ score, his 40-yard dash of 4.88 seconds is decently respectable for someone his size, and his exceptional 40.5 powerball toss demonstrates his raw upper body strength. I'll get this out of the way now, but I think the Hall should be a surefire 5-star prospect.

Pros

The obvious is that Hall is a purely intimidating human being, even among the already intimidating world of football players. He's massive, and not a bit of it is fat. He accelerates with surprising explosiveness, and is usually the fastest player off of the snap, and often stuns his blocker with his sheer explosion. He displays an array of rushing moves, adept at using spins, swims, counters, and bull rushes to get to the quarterback, and is an active hand fighter in the trenches. He has the upper body power to knock back an offensive lineman, and the arm length to keep them off of his body. Despite his 6'6" height, he is impressively limber, and is usually able to keep his pads lower than those of the blockers, helping him to win the leverage battle, which also helps him to be fairly effective at taking on blockers in the run game. As one would expect with his length, he's exceptional at swatting passes at the line of scrimmage.

Cons

Hall is a bit of a lumbering runner, and doesn't have the pure speed to be very effective in the open field. He's also not the best tackler, and doesn't always finish the play (although he usually does a great job disrupting it). He has very little experience in pass coverage, a skill which should be expected by Jack linebackers in Saban's defense.

Prediction

As stated above, Ryan Anderson, Tim Williams, and crew have the edge rushing positions locked down with senior starters already. Despite this, Hall is too good not to see the field in some way this year. He may not break into the regular rotation, but I'd be surprised if he doesn't get a lion's share of time in mop up duty. I also expect him to find a role on special teams, either as a blocker or rusher on the punting and field goal teams.

Lyndell "Mack" Wilson, Outside linebacker

Stars National Rank Position Rank Height Weight 40-Yard Dash 20-Yard Shuttle Vertical Jump Power Throw SPARQ Z-Score
5 15 2 6020 236 4.85 4.55 31.5 42.5 102.6 1.29

The five star outside linebacker from Montgomery, Alabama, is one of the highest ranked players in the nation with extreme potential to be a difference maker at not only the college level, but the NFL level as well. Athletically, he posted a 1.29 Z-score, meaning he's in the top 90% of collegiate football players in terms of his pure athleticism. Though his 40-yard dash is a bit low for an outside linebacker, his vertical jump and power ball toss demonstrate pure explosiveness in both his upper and lower body muscles.

Pros

Quick, explosive, and hits like a truck. Wilson is much faster than his 40 time indicates. He's a pure football player, and excels at almost anything he does (he has at times played wildcat quarterback for his high school team). He's good at pass coverage, and an amazing tackler in open space... and his tackles are bone-jarring. Wilson is at his best when he can lock onto the ball carrier and chase him down from anywhere on the field.

Cons

He hasn't really specialized enough at one position yet to be extremely technical and smart with his play. When he's locked onto a ball carrier, he can end up over pursuing, and when he isn't locked, he often seems almost lost. Though it doesn't show up in highlight reels, I've heard rumblings (he's from my area of the state) that he has a tendency to take off plays at times during games.

Prediction

Lyndell Wilson is pretty much an identical player to Reuben Foster coming out of high school. With his athletic potential, he could easily wind up as a top 20-NFL draft pick one day, but needs some refining first. He could play almost any of the four linebacker positions, but projects best at either the Will or Sam spots. Though he has a good shot at being a contributor on special teams, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that he ends up redshirting this year to save a year of eligibility in the future.

Ben Davis, Inside Linebacker

Stars National Rank Position Rank Height Weight 40-Yard Dash 20-Yard Shuttle Vertical Jump Power Throw SPARQ Z-Score
5 10 1 6040 237 4.94 4.54 36 40 103.2 1.32


Athletically, Ben Davis scored very similarly to Wilson. The top ranked linebacker and highest ranked member of Alabama's class of 2016 jumped for an outstanding 36 inches in the vertical jump (higher than a significant number of defensive backs in this year's NFL combine), displaying outstanding lower body explosiveness. His 40-yard dash of 4.94 is fairly slow for a 240-pound linebacker though, and he will need to work to improve his speed.

Pros

In the mold of your typical Alabama middle linebacker, Davis is an instinctive and heady player. He reacts to plays quickly and decisively, allowing him to have a step on the competition at all times. He can both attack downhill and chase ball carriers to the sidelines, and has the quickness and fluidity in his movements to keep up with anyone. He's a technical tackler that puts his shoulder pads into the thighs of the ball carrier, wraps his arms, and rolls. He's also strong enough to handle his own against blockers that meet him up the middle on running plays. As an added bonus, he's a surprisingly effective wide receiver too.

Cons

There aren't many negatives to speak of with Davis. The biggest is probably that he has very little tape out there showing his ability to cover in the passing game. He also has not really shown much ability to rush the passer, so branching to an outside linebacker position may be out of the question for him, unlike Wilson above.

Prediction

I think Davis quickly becomes the key back up for both the Mike and the Will spots, ready to sub in for either Shaun Hamilton or Reuben Foster should either get hurt. He also may get the opportunity to prove himself on special teams as a gunner.