Last season, Alabama fielded on of the most dangerous front sevens that college football has ever seen. They were a flurry of speed and ferociousness that surpassed even the usual expected nastiness of a Crimson Tide linebacking corps.
So as not to bore you with a 3000 word article, I’m breaking this up into two articles: the outside linebackers and inside linebackers.
Theoretically, in a base 3-4, Alabama uses four designations— Sam, Mike, Will, and Jack— for each starting linebacker.
The Sam is the "strong outside linebacker," one who typically will line up directly across from the tight end, whichever side that may be. Typically, this is the player that will be subbed out in a nickel package, and therefore is the least used.
The other outside linebacker is the Jack. The most well known of the positions, his usual role is to line up as a wide defensive end and rush the quarterback. In Alabama’s case (especially last season), Kirby Smart actually used two Jacks in place of defensive ends quite often when in nickel or dime, blending the Sam and Jack roles. Due to all of this, separating these players from the defensive ends can often times be a tough distinction, and categorizing the inside and outside linebacker can be just as futile.
As such, this article will cover any that were not mentioned in OWB’s article on the defensive line, and I will personally make the separations between outside and inside (even if they end up being inaccurate when the season rolls around)
Ryan Anderson (R. Sr.)
2015 stats: 37 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, 10 QB hurries, 2 fumbles forced
Personally, I believe that Anderson is the most underrated player on this team. at 6’2" 250, the 5th year senior is a powerfully-built wrecking ball of energy who is just as adept at taking down running backs in the backfield as he is at chasing QBs. He has an outstanding repertoire of pass rush moves and technique that you don’t even see in many NFL pass rushers.
What he lacks in pure speed, he makes up for in relentless effort and surprising quickness.
He is equally experienced at both the Jack and Sam roles, and can either rush the passer or keep contain on the running back on the strongside of the line. With another year of experience under his belt, Anderson could take the step this year from "solid-starter" into "star player."
Tim Williams (Sr.)
2015 stats: 19 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, 4 QB hurries, 1 PBU
Last season, Williams rocketed from an unknown back up to someone being talked about as the best pass rusher in college football, drawing comparisons to future NFL Hall-of-Famer, Dwight Freeney.
He was given a situational role, only playing as a jack in passing situations, yet he made the most of that, with almost 66% of his total tackles on the year being behind the line of scrimmage. He displayed unparalleled explosiveness off the snap, routinely embarrassing offensive tackles before they had time to get out of their stance all year.
This year, he’ll have to prove that he wasn’t a one-season wonder, and that he can handle a full-time starting role. If he does, he’ll likely be a top-ten, if not top-five draft pick in 2017.
Christian Miller (R.So.)
2015 stats: 12 game appearances
Though a key reserve that appeared in 12 games, Miller did not record a stat in his first season in 2015. He has, however, made waves during A-day games and spring practices for the last two years in a row.
At 6’4" 230, he’s a little lighter—and more than a little faster— than most Crimson Tide linebackers of yore. His speed and aggressiveness has caused fits for the opposing practice offenses, and he often appears more of a blur than a man when chasing running backs or QBs. He will likely be the top pass-rushing option to spell Williams and Anderson this season, giving him plenty of opportunity to practice for being a full starter after they both graduate.
Anfernee Jennings (R. Fr.)
High school rating: 4 stars, #172 overall, #11 Weakside Defensive End
A younger clone of Ryan Anderson, Jennings is more of an undersized defensive end than a linebacker. With his compact frame, he attacks offensive linemen with a controlled ferocity that regularly jolts them into the backfield.
After taking a season to redshirt, he will be hoping to push his way into a contributing role this season, likely learning under the tutelage of Anderson and becoming his direct replacement in mop up duty.
Mekhi Brown (R. Fr.)
High school rating: 4 stars, #114 overall, #6 Weakside Defensive End
While Miller and Jennings seem to be almost identical to Williams and Anderson, Mekhi Brown is a totally different style of player. At 6’5", he possesses length that the rest of the linebackers can only dream of. That kind of physical presence can instill fear into a QB one every play, even if he isn’t making the sack. Those arms will also help him in disengaging from blocks laterally, making him a perfect fit as a pure Sam linebacker.
Like Jennings, Brown will be hoping to carve out a small role as a mop-up player to gain experience for the position battle in 2017 after both Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson leave to test the waters of the NFL
Lyndell Wilson (Fr)
High school rating: 5 stars, #15 overall, #2 Outside Linebacker
An athletic freak with explosive potential that hasn’t been seen since Reuben Foster was in high school, Wilson enters the program with high expectations. He has the versatility to play any of the four linebacker positions, but is initially being projected on the outside.
However, due to offseason surgery, it is unlikely he will return until late this season, if at all, and he will most likely redshirt.
Alabama is loaded at linebacker this year. As scary as that pass rush was in 2015, it could be even more so in 2016. Watch out, world.