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Alabama Football Film Room: Keith Holcombe has stepped up

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Keith Holcombe has made his way from special teams standout to unexpected starter

NCAA Football: Alabama at Tennessee John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Keith Holcombe is another example of patience paying off. The former four star recruit redshirted his first year on campus and then spent the next two seasons on special teams. He did make plenty of plays on special teams, including a blocked punt in the 2015 SEC Championship.

With Shaun Dion Hamilton being sidelined in the spring, Holcombe was one of the primary guys replacing him, and he started next to Rashaan Evans at A-Day. Holcombe flashed, notching 10 tackles and two sacks. Hamilton came back strong, but Holcombe had done enough to earn playing time in some packages against Florida State.

Rashaan Evans’ injury thrust Holcombe into a starting role against Fresno State, and he has thrived. No other Alabama player has more tackles than Holcombe in the past two games - 16 tackles, including nine against Colorado State. His 17 total tackles are good for second on the team, one fewer than Ronnie Harrison. Holcombe has also added three pass break-ups, and he would have had four if not for a penalty.

3rd and 8: Holcombe is the middle linebacker. Mack Wilson and Tony Brown blitz from the left, and the pass is a quick screen to the slot receiver that side. Holcombe is a beat slow reacting, but he starts running over. Hootie Jones comes down from the safety position and forces the receiver inside. Holcombe wraps him up for a great tackle well short of the first down mark.

1st and 10: Holcombe is one of the inside linebackers, standing next to the left of Shaun Dion Hamilton. He steps up on the snap, keeping his feet moving; and he stays home. The fullback and H-back manage to take out Raekwon Davis, but Holcombe is waiting right in the gap. He stands the back up and stops him for a gain of just one.

2nd and 7: Holcombe is next to Hamilton again. The Rams H-back motions right, and Jamey Mosley flips to the opposite side. Stephens hands it off as Tony Brown blitzes from the nickel spot. Holcombe flows to his left with the run going that way, and the running back sees the open area Holcombe has now vacated and makes his cut. Holcombe does do a good job of getting back and making the shoestring tackle, but it’s a first down.

1st and 10: It’s the next play, and Colorado State has the same formation. The H-back motions again, and Stephens hands it off again. The center gets up to the second level and goes to block Holcombe, but he keeps moving with the play and doesn’t get tangled up. Trevon Diggs forces the back to cut it upfield, and Holcombe is one of three defenders who help make the tackle.

3rd and 4: Holcombe’s to the right of Hamilton, who blitzes. Holcombe’s responsibility is the running back, but he stays in to block. So Holcombe floats, watching the quarterback. Stephens goes for the quick slant for the first down, but Holcombe is in perfect position. He leaps and gets his hands on the pass, forcing the incompletion. A personal foul on Chris Allen negated Holcombe’s play, unfortunately, and gave the Rams the first down.

3rd and goal: Holcombe is lined up on the same side as the running back. Holcombe takes a couple steps forward, getting his feet moving and watching Izzy Matthews as he starts coming through the line. Matthews breaks to the left, and Holcombe immediately jumps. He smothers Matthews and positions himself for the deflection. Great play to force fourth down.