Sam, Will, Mike, and Jack. No, those are not the kids from down the street where you grew up, they are the terms for each of the four linebacker positions in Nick Saban’s 3-4 defense. Last week, I posted a piece on the two middle linebackers, the Will and Mike. Now we will take a look at the outside linebackers.
In the past, there was a distinct difference in the Sam and the Jack. The Sam linebacker was the “strong-side linebacker” and his role was generally to be able to take on the tight end and set the edge on running plays, while defending the flats or playing man on a tight end in passing plays. The Jack was used primarily as a stand-up pass rusher who would try to go around the edge of the line on the side without a tight end.
However, now that the base 3-4 defense is almost never seen and Alabama spends most of their time in nickel and dime defenses, the two positions have mostly merged together. Both act basically the same as a 4-3 defensive end, and usually line up on the line of scrimmage with their hands in the dirt (though they still have to learn some pass coverage skills to be able to play in a base 3-4 when needed… and that versatility allows for the defensive coordinator to call confusing zone blitzes where these linebackers that look like linemen can drop into coverage).
Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams dominated college football from those two spots the last two seasons, but now both are in the NFL, and Alabama has to replace them. Despite the losses, there is a bevvy of talent and experience at the position to keep it as strong as ever, if maybe not quite as dominant as 2016.
The top three
#47-Christian Miller (6’4” 240) Redshirt Junior
A 4th-year player, Miller brings elite quickness to the edge with his experience. He’s played in 27 games over the last two years as one of the top reserves and has 16 tackles and 2 sacks in that time. He’s been a standout in spring practices the last two years, and looks to finally be a full-time starter, most likely as the Sam.
In the past, he’s been a little light to be an edge rusher, and has made his mark solely by being quicker and more explosive than the opposing blockers. This offseason though, he’s bulked up to 240 pounds and should be the every-down all-purpose linebacker that can rush the edge or drop into coverage as needed.
#33-Anfernee Jennings (6’3” 262) Redshirt Sophomore
Jennings is a throwback to the early Saban days of having a 260-pound Jack linebacker, and looks to be the starter there this year. After redshirting his first year, he saw action in all 15 games last year as a reserve and nabbed 19 tackles, 2 of them for a loss. He’s a stocky, powerful linebacker with great pass rushing technique-- a near clone to his predecessor, Ryan Anderson.
#24-Terrell Lewis (6’5” 254) Sophomore
He changed his last name from Hall to Lewis this summer, but the D.C. native is still one of the most intimidating players on the Alabama roster. He’s a massive, rangy athlete with the wingspan of a small airplane who can swallow up blockers as well as chase down running backs. As a true freshman, he racked up 11 tackles and a sack in 11 games. He made even more waves this spring when he intercepted a pass at A-day by jumping up and snatching it out of the air only a few feet from where the QB released the ball, then returning it for a score.
Though it looks like Jennings has the first nod as the starter at Jack, expect to see Lewis just as much this year as the two rotate with each other.
The returning reserves
#16-Jamey Mosley (6’5” 248) Redshirt Junior
A walk-on and little brother to Tide alum C.J. Mosley, Jamey is in his fourth year, and has been a reliable back-up and special teams player over the last year. He saw action in 5 games in 2016, though he did not record any stats. He has performed well enough that he earned a scholarship a while back, and was solidly entrenched on the second rotation of outside linebackers during A-Day.
#48-Mekhi Brown (6’5” 241) Redshirt Sophomore
Brown saw actions in a couple of games as a redshirt freshman near the end of last year, though he didn’t record any stats. This spring, he led the outside linebacker group with his 40-yard dash, showing that he has exceptional athleticism to go along with his great length.
#1-Ben Davis (6’4” 237) Redshirt Freshman
Davis was a fan favorite as a recruit—a 5-star middle linebacker from just outside Tuscaloosa whose dad is a record holder for Alabama as a linebacker as well. He redshirted last year after getting injured in practice before the season started, and has since moved to outside linebacker to bolster the depth there. He’s a versatile player with great instincts and predictive capabilities, and still should be a superstar in the future. Though whether that is at outside linebacker or inside still remains to be seen.
#4-Chris Allen (6’4” 239) Freshman
Another lengthy, physically imposing specimen on the outside, Allen was one of the recruits stolen from out from under LSU’s nose, right out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He’s a high energy player with a boundless supply of aggressiveness and big hits. He may end up being a mainstay on special teams this year rather than take a redshirt.
#43-VanDarius Cowan (6’4” 236) Freshman
I’m not actually sure if Cowan will end up being an inside or outside linebacker, but since I considered his fellow freshman, Markail Benton, to be on the inside, I put Cowan here. He’s an extremely gifted player with outstanding athleticism and instincts, but ran into some issues with his attitude clashing with his high school coaches, and ended up being kicked off of his high school team halfway through his senior year. Nick Saban apparently decided that it would not be an issue in college, so hopefully Cowan will develop into the superstar that he has the potential to be.
Who gets more sacks in 2017?
This poll is closed