Rolando McClain, Donta Hightower, Nico Johnson, C.J. Mosley, Reggie Ragland, Reuben Foster. All names that went on to be drafted into the NFL, 4 first rounders, a second rounder, and a 4th.
Over the years, the middle linebackers have always been the heart of Nick Saban’s Alabama defenses. Early on with McClain and Hightower, they set the tone with monstrous strength and intimidation in the middle, stymieing any run game and punishing receivers over the middle. With time, C.J. Mosley and Reuben Foster reflected the Tide’s adaptation to more modern offensive philosophies, as both played below 230 pounds and were much more akin to missiles screaming across the field than big bombs in the heart of the defense.
With Foster moving on to the San Francisco 49ers (and making waves in the preseason, I might add), Alabama is left with two senior players with plenty of talent and experience to their name. The question is: which will get more tackles?
The Returning Veterans
#20-Shaun Dion Hamilton (6’0”/ 235) Senior
Hamilton worked his way onto the field as a key reserve in his freshman season in 2014, notching appearances in every game and making 3 tackles on the season. He never looked back. As a sophomore, he got 5 starts while working as the third linebacker behind Reggie Ragland and Reuben Foster. Last year, he was the starter alongside Foster, and was third on the team with 64 tackles. He added 9 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, and 2 interceptions.
However, his season was cut short in the SEC Championship game after a nasty knee-injury took him out for the season. He did not participate in most of the spring practices, but all reports indicate that he will be ready to go by week 1 against Florida State.
Hamilton is an instinctual player and sure tackler who has typically been used more as a run stopper in the mold of Rolando McClain than a pass coverage linebacker. This year, he’ll be expected to be THE GUY, not just Foster’s running mate. And he should pass that with flying colors.
#32-Rashaan Evans (6’3”/ 234) Senior
Evans came to Alabama at the same time as Hamilton, but has had a slightly different career path. He started out as an outside linebacker that specialized in pass rushing from the edge. As a freshman, he notched 15 tackles and was a standout on special teams. But his playing time actually dropped off a little in year two, only getting 10 tackles.
Last year, however, he made the position switch to middle linebacker, and rotated with Hamilton depending on the situation, while also retaining his ability to occasionally line up on the edge and rush the passer. He finished 2016 with 53 tackles and 4 sacks.
A speedy, explosive linebacker, Evans is flashier and more in the mold of Reuben Foster than Hamilton is, but has less experience being the full-time center of a defense. But in his final year at Alabama, he has the chance to steal all of the limelight.
The Returning Depth
#30-Mack Wilson (6’2”/236) Sophomore
A five star true freshman last year, Wilson immediately made an impact on special teams, along with carving out a role as a primary back-up at middle linebacker and as a fullback in goal line situations (he even caught a touchdown!)
In year two, the talented sophomore will likely resume all of those roles, but with a little more trust and playing time from the coaching staff.
#42-Keith Holcombe (6’4”/236) Redshirt Junior
An exceptional athlete, Holcombe has split his time between playing football and baseball at Alabama in his first three years. He’s been a mainstay on special teams the last two years, and has racked up 33 tackles in that timeframe.
He and Wilson look to be the two primary backups to Evans and Hamilton this year, and he brings both a veteran presence and exceptional athleticism to his role.
#40-Josh McMillan (6’3”/241) Redshirt Sophomore
Built more like the solid run-thumping linebackers of the early Saban years, McMillan is a big guy with a lot of strength. He was a highly rated recruit in 2015, but has been buried on the depth chart during his first two years on campus, and hasn’t seen any action on the field yet.
#8-Dylan Moses (6’3”/232) Freshman
Yes, this is the Dylan Moses that made headlines all those years ago when Alabama and LSU offered him scholarships as an eighth grader. He eventually decided to forego being a running back to wholly pursue linebacking. He’s one of the most athletic players ever seen in high school, running a sub 4.5 forty at 235 pounds, and has all the makings of a future superstar. He may have a lot of veterans ahead of him right now, but don’t be surprised if he finds his way on the field sooner rather than later, be it on special teams or as a backup.
#36-Markail Benton (6’2”/237) Freshman
Stolen right out of Auburn’s backyard in Phenix City, Benton was a unanimous 4-star recruit and generally considered one of the top 10 or so linebackers in the nation. His senior season ended early with a nasty injury, but all reports are that he made a full recovery by the time he made it to Alabama. I don’t know for sure if he will actually be depth at inside or outside linebacker this year, but the last I heard, he was seen working with the inside linebackers in drills.
Who will lead the middle linebackers in tackles this year?
This poll is closed
Shaun Dion Hamilton