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2016 Alabama Football Unit Preview: Inside Linebackers

Alabama is the real Linebacker U

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

If you were asked which position group has been the most consistently good under Nick Saban, what would you say? Every starting running back has been drafted in the top 3 rounds of the NFL draft, and they’ve also taken home two Heismans.

However, the inside linebackers might give them a run for their money. Rolando McClain, Dont'a Hightower, Nico Johnson, C.J. Moseley, Reggie Ragland. All names that are very dear to Alabama fans, and all but Johnson were drafted in the top two rounds of the draft. Every year, it seems that the top middle linebacker on the draft boards is a 'Bama product.

And 2016 just might hold the best of the lineage.

The Star

Reuben Foster (Sr.)

2015 stats: 73 tackles, 8 TFL, 1 sack, 7 passes defended

[The first person to post the obligatory Foster gif in the comment thread gets a RBR bonus point. Go.]

Reuben Foster played as the Will linebacker alongside Reggie Ragland last season. With Ragland moving on to the pros, Foster will be moving over to the Mike spot to inherit what is possibly the most esteemed position in the Bama defense: the man the in middle. Not only will he obliterate ball carriers and doggedly chase the football, but now he will also be the vocal leader in the center, and the responsibility of calling plays and aligning teammates will fall on his shoulders.

Only time will tell if he can handle the leadership responsibilities, but when it comes to hitting opponents? He’s ready.

The senior was, without a second’s hesitation, voted as the hardest hitter on the team last summer. Then, in 2015, he improved his speed and coverage awareness, leading to an outstanding 7 PBUs. With that kind of explosiveness, he’s one of the better coverage linebackers in the nation.

Add that to the fact that he can be mistaken for a crimson missile as he streaks from sideline to sideline and into the backfield to decleat those unlucky enough to be his opponent, and Foster is possibly the most talented linebacker the Tide has produced under Nick Saban.

Over the offseason, he has lost 15 pounds— from 240 to 225— in order to get even more explosive and fluid while minimizing his nagging back and knee twinges.

Look out, opposing offenses, the missile just got faster.

The Top Rotation

Shaun Hamilton (Jr.)

2015 stats: 27 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 PBU

A player that has rotated into the game in even the most critical moments since his first year on campus, Shaun Dion Hamilton is looking to capture his first full time starting role.

By all accounts, it looks like the hard-hitting 3rd year player will be the starter at the Will position, at least in base downs. He excels in run defense, and, like Foster, he lets loose hits akin to thunder from the heavens.

While his hitting prowess was never in question, it is yet to be seen if he can hold up in a spread-passing game. To this point, he has been used almost solely in running situations, seeing his most extensive playing time against LSU and Arkansas.

Rashaan Evans (Jr.)

2015 stats: 10 tackles, 4 TFL, 4 sacks

The former outside edge rusher is known first and foremost for his pure speed. After playing a backup role his first two years, he was released as the Tide’s secret weapon in the national championship game at the end of the 2015 season, where he used his quick-twitch athleticism to play as a spy on DeShaun Watson from an inside linebacker position.

During this age of spread offenses and deadly dual-threat QBs, Evans might have found a niche that will vault his value to not only the top of the Alabama depth charts, but higher in NFL draft circles as well.

As of now, it looks like he and Hamilton will rotate for the Will position, depending on the matchup and formation of the opposing offense.

The Reserves

Keith Holcombe (RSo.)

An elite athlete, not only is Holcombe a football player, but he plays baseball full-time for UA as well. He played safety in high school, but bulked up and has since moved to linebacker.

He’s garnered little playing time thus far, but looks to be a key backup this year

Keaton Anderson (RFr.)

After taking a redshirt as a freshman, Anderson looks primed to be a key player on special teams. A smaller linebacker with good speed and quickness, he is tailor-made to be a special teams gunner and a coverage linebacker in dime packages.

Joshua McMillon (RFr.)

Like Anderson, McMillon is pretty much a newcomer this year. At 240 pounds, McMillon fits more with the Reggie Ragland/Rolando McClain style of linebacker than that of Foster or Evans. He’s a traditional run thumper in the middle, and a prototypical 3-4 Mike linebacker

The Newcomers

Shawn Jennings (Fr.)

A safety in high school, Jennings quickly bulked up after his senior year and has been listed as a linebacker on Alabama’s roster ever since he enrolled last spring. A significant knee injury cut short his senior season, and he likely won’t play at all as a freshman as he takes the season to get fully healed.

Ben Davis (Fr.)

Davis was possibly the most hyped recruit of the Tide’s 2016 class. The five-star Tide legacy from Gordo, AL, is a smart, instinctual player that has reminded many of former Tide great, C.J. Mosley. Despite being a first-year player, it would not surprise me whatsoever if he passes McMillon, Anderson, and Holcombe to become one of the top backups by the end of the season.