I think it’s safe to say that the inside linebacker play for Alabama wasn’t up to the usual standards. Starters Mack Wilson and Dylan Moses formed a talented duo, but the performance wasn’t always there.
With Wilson gone, there will be a new, relatively inexperienced face out there in 2019. Fortunately (or unfortunately, I guess, depending on your point of view), the inside linebackers are one of the few groups that have their position coach returning. Pete Golding is the new defensive coordinator, but he’ll still be coaching the inside ’backers.
Wilson surprised many when he declared for the NFL draft after it initially looked like he would return for his senior season. The former 5 star saw extensive playing time as a back-up and situational player as a freshman and sophomore before moving into a starting role as a junior. It was an up-and-down campaign for Wilson, and he never morphed into the player fans were hoping he would be. Still, Wilson earned second team All-America honors from the AFCA and second team All-SEC honors from the coaches; and his absence leaves a hole in the middle of the defense.
Moses stepped into the starting line-up as a sophomore after flashing as a freshman. His play wasn’t perfect - some poor angles, missed coverages, etc. - but he did produce at a high level. Moses led the team with 86 tackles which helped earn him second team All-America honors from Walter Camp and second team All-SEC. He was also a finalist for the Butkus Award. Whether he stays at Will or slides over to the Mike spot remains to be seen, but he should be the field general out there. As a third year player with a year of starting experience under his belt, Moses is primed to be a leader for the defense.
The redshirt senior will likely get the first shot at replacing Wilson. He was the top reserve in 2018 and is entering his fifth year in the system. There’s also no heir apparent at inside linebacker like there has been in previous years. While McMillon does have the longevity working in his favor, he doesn’t have much more playing time than the other returning reserves. In his four seasons, he’s played in just 18 games, notching 19 tackles.
After McMillon, redshirt sophomore Markail Benton has been with the program the longest. Again, though, it’s different when it comes to his playing time. Benton redshirted his first season before playing in 13 games last season in mop-up duty and on special teams, making 14 tackles.
Though Nick Saban said he wasn’t sure if Kaho would be back with the team, Kaho later promised, like Douglas MacArthur before him, that he shall return. While we certainly hope he returns, his well-being is the most important thing; and hopefully the young man is doing okay. Fans do have reason to be excited for him. Kaho, a 4 star recruit and the #7 ILB in the Class of 2018, joined Alabama in the middle of August last year after a high-profile departure from Washington. Despite missing the start of fall camp, he impressed enough to play in all 15 games, primarily on special teams. Kaho was named special teams player of the week against LSU and Mississippi State, and he led the team with 7 special teams tackles while adding 4 more on defense. He also recovered a fumble against Mississippi State.
Alabama turned to the 3 star Moody fairly late in the recruiting cycle after missing out on a couple targets, and it certainly worked out. He played in 14 games, mainly on special teams like Kaho, and the staff named him special teams player of the week against ULL and Arkansas.
Lee, listed at a dense 6’0, 248lbs now, was a 4 star recruit from Maryland - St. Frances Academy, like sophomore Eyabi Anoma (OLB), fellow freshman Darrian Dalcourt (OL), and Class of 2020 committ Chris Braswell. Lee played in the Under Armour All America game, and here’s what Brent had to say about his performance.
Shane Lee played for most of the game at middle linebacker, and looks like the second coming of Reggie Ragland. He’s a built, compact dude that can really fill the holes and plug things up in the middle of the line. If the other team tried to run it up the gut, you could be sure he was going to be right in the thick of the carnage. He also showed good awareness in pass coverage and got a breakup early in the game. Also like Ragland, though, he lacks elite speed. When chasing someone to the sideline, he’d often have to run backwards and give up a few yards to get a safe angle. Even in shorter distance lateral tackles he still had to drop a little before making tackles or he wouldn’t be able to catch the ball carrier. He’ll never be a heat-seaking missile linebacker like Mack Wilson or Reuben Foster.
Projected Depth Chart
Mike: Dylan Moses, Markail Benton, Shane Lee
Will: Joshua McMillon, Ale Kaho, Jaylen Moody
With his experience, Moses will be the field general out there. For the other spot, I’m going with McMillon right now. He should be the starter at least in the early parts of spring practice because of his experience/seniority. Now, I’m much less confident about whether he will be the starter come kickoff time against Duke. I think Kaho is a wildcard here, and I could easily see him doing enough to supplant McMillon. But, for the time being, I’m sticking with the redshirt senior.