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Alabama Spring Football 2016 Unit Previews: Inside Linebackers

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Reggie Ragland is gone, but the Tide has other stars waiting in the wings.

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Departed

Reggie Ragland inflicted pain upon Southeastern Conference and national competition in two seasons as a starter (2014-15).

The 2015 Butkus Award finalist and SEC's Defensive Player of the Year finished last season with 102 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, seven pass breakups, six quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles. His combination of knowledge, lateral quickness and toughness helped Alabama secure the nation's top rush defense (75.7 ypg) and sack defense (52). It was also among the leaders in total defense (276.3 ypg) and scoring defense (15.1 ppg).

Ragland is widely-regarded as the top-ranked inside linebacker prospect heading into the upcoming NFL Draft. He was a member of three SEC championships and two national titles. Replacing him will be difficult, but the Crimson Tide has players that are ready to step up.

The New Leader

Reuben Foster

When he's not injured, Foster is a force to be reckoned with. After two seasons of neck stingers and leg issues, he shook off the injury bug and was very productive. Foster finished second on the team in tackles (73), while adding 6.5 tackles for loss, a sack, nine pass breakups and three quarterback hurries to his credit.

He remains ever the thumper on special teams, but now it's time for him to dominate in the same manner as his predecessors. Coach Nick Saban and multiple players, including linebacker Ryan Anderson have noticed Foster become more of a leader. Anderson told the press during player interviews that "when Foster speaks, everyone listens."

Expanded Role

Shaun Dion Hamilton

Now a junior, Hamilton will see more opportunities at weakside ("Will") linebacker. He shared the role with Reuben Foster a year ago, collecting 27 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry. A former four-star recruit, Hamilton is a secure tackler that understands gap assignments. He played his best games against Wisconsin, Georgia and Michigan State, combining for 14 tackles. Hamilton helped the Crimson Tide limit Arkansas, LSU and Michigan State to subpar numbers (yards wise) last year. He is currently second in position drills behind Foster, entering week three of spring practice. Hamilton said he has a chance to establish his role, but for now "he's doing everything he can to better the team".

Keith Holcombe

Holcombe is one of multiple players that participate in two sports for Alabama. He has been special on the baseball diamond, but Tide fans are anxious to see him on the gridiron this fall.

The Tuscaloosa native chimed in with nine total tackles, including six on special teams in 2015. Holcombe came up huge against Florida with a blocked punt for a safety in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game. His efforts put Alabama on the board first and it ultimately won the contest, 29-15. Saban is concerned with Holcombe playing two sports where school comes in, yet he told the press on March 28 that Holcombe is a "bright guy and a good student."

"Playing two sports shouldn't have a big effect on him," Saban said on Holcombe. "We want him to play. It makes it more difficult for him to balance what he needs to do in football and he has a chance to be a great contributor on the football team. By not being there in the spring could affect his development to some degree, but whatever he misses we will make every effort to help him make up."

When he is in practice, Holcombe falls behind Foster and Hamilton in position drills.

The X-Factor

Rashaan Evans

Crimson Tide fans couldn't believe their eyes when Evans burned Auburn to enroll at Alabama in 2014. A former-five star recruit and explosive outside linebacker, Evans showcased his hard-hitting abilities on special teams as a freshman. Twelve of his 15 tackles come from blowing opponents up on punt and kick coverage, tying him for the team lead. He finished the season with 15 total tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack and three quarterback hurries in 13 games.

The 6-foot-3, 230-pound edge rusher brought more flash to the table in 2015. Despite a slight drop in tackles, Evans' tackle for loss (four) and sacks (four) output improved. His best outing came against Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game. He accounted for three tackles, two tackles for loss and two sacks on quarterback Deshaun Watson.Saban's focus to create an opportunity for Evans to have an every down role. He's been taking reps at inside linebacker during spring practice under the eyes of defensive coordinator, Jeremy Pruitt. Regardless of the experiment, Saban fully plans on using Evans' ability as a edge rusher.

The Next Wave

Adonis Thomas

He is a player that continues to grow in practice, regardless if he is on the scout team. Thomas was a four-star athlete from Lawrenceville, Ga., who signed in Alabama's 2015 recruiting class. He was No. 54 in the ESPN 300 recruiting database, participating in both Nike's "The Opening" competition and Under Armour All-America Game. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound linebacker was redshirted last year; however, he is starting to develop the instincts that could get him field time.

Walker Jones

Jones is carrying a family legacy. His brothers, Barrett and Harrison, both played at Alabama. Barrett was a decorative offensive lineman that anchored three national championship teams, while Harrison served at tight end for two championships. Walker Jones has seen action in only two games, nevertheless, he has potential to make an impact. Jeremy Pruitt has provided more a teaching vibe thus far in practice and if Jones can catch on, this fall could be special for him.

Joshua McMillon

Keaton Anderson

Both McMillon and Anderson have been in the system for a year now. The two have size, intelligence and capabilities to contribute to the unit. Productivity on special teams would be the ideal task in getting each one a chance increase its role on the field. McMillion, a former four-star, served on the scout team, while Anderson (three-star) chose to redshirt last season.

Incoming

Ben Davis, like Walker Jones, comes to Alabama under a great legacy. The five-star signee from Gordo High School is the son of Wayne Davis, the all-time tackles leader (327) in school history. Davis, who stands at 6-foot-4 and 237 pounds, was the nation's top-ranked inside linebacker in the 2016 recruiting cycle. He was listed at No. 24 in the ESPN 300 recruiting database, choosing the Crimson Tide over Auburn.