The reasons for the title game loss to Clemson last season have been debated ad nauseum around these parts, but there is little question that an inability to rush the passer without blitzing was a key bullet. Already down uber-talented Terrell Lewis and Christopher Allen, Christian Miller went down in the semifinals and missed the game. Trevor Lawrence subsequently used the extra time and a certain bad matchup in the secondary to put 44 points on the board.
Like last season’s group, this team came into camp with the talent to have a ferocious pass rush. In order to try and keep them healthy for the season, Saban has limited the reps of some of the top players. Hopefully they are able to stay healthy and produce at the level that they are capable of. If that happens, this team will be very difficult to beat.
#24 Terrell Lewis - 6’5” 252 lb. redshirt junior
If anyone deserves to finally have some injury luck, it is athletic freak Terrell Lewis. After taking a redshirt year, Lewis blew everyone away in the 2017 spring and fall camps, the highlight being a ridiculously athletic interception of Tua Tagovailoa in the spring game that he subsequently took to the house. Unfortunately his arm got caught in a pile in the season opener against Florida State, severely damaging his elbow. To his credit, Lewis rehabbed feverishly, managing to make it back in time for the playoffs that season and was instrumental in getting after Jake Fromm in the title game.
Terrell’s redshirt sophomore campaign was over before it started when he tore an ACL during summer workouts. He was back practicing with the team during playoff prep, leading to some speculation that he might be able to contribute again, but Saban shut down any questions about that. He will be more than a year removed from surgery when the season kicks off and will hopefully have all of the explosiveness we’ve seen in his limited action.
#33 Anfernee Jennings - 6’3” 259 lb. redshirt senior
The yin to Lewis’s yang, Jennings is a bit more compact and, while he has the ability to get after the passer, is known more as a devastating edge setter. Playing the “jack” position with his hand in the dirt more often than not, there are few college tackles that Jennings can’t stand up. Like Lewis, Jennings had to battle through an ACL tear, his coming in the 2017 semifinal domination of Clemson. He was ready for fall camp last year and had a nice season, but came back for a fifth in hopes of improving his pass rush before entering his name into the NFL Draft. Having a healthy Lewis on the other side can only help in that regard.
Next Man Up
#4 Christopher Allen - 6’4” 250 lb. redshirt sophomore
Yet another Alabama linebacker who fell victim to the injury bug, the Baton Rouge product showed promise in his freshman year. He appeared in seven games and was poised to have a big role in the rotation as a sophomore before he too suffered a torn ACL. In fact, Allen should probably have been projected as the starter this season, with Lewis in the NFL. Alas, he will have to settle for being the #3 edge rusher in what should be one of the most talented groups in the country.
There is plenty of available talent here, and the competition for playing time will likely continue into the season. Ben Davis has reportedly made some strides and has put himself in position to make a contribution this season, though he has been seen playing inside some as well. Redshirt freshman Jarez Parks, a lighter player at 239 lb. who famously took a grayshirt at Alabama over an immediate scholarship offer from Auburn, looks poised to contribute in the pass rush. True freshman King Mwukita actually earned some first team reps in the last scrimmage as Jennings and Lewis were held out, and fellow newcomer Kevin Harris has impressed the staff as well.
No offense to the depth guys, but here’s hoping that none of them see action this season until a game is well in hand. The top three guys in this group have a legitimate chance to form the best edge rushing unit in the country, but there will always be a bit of nervousness since all three have surgically repaired ACLs. If there was ever an appropriate spot for a good old RBR “hope for the best,” this would be it.