The inside linebackers will be one of the most-watched positions throughout fall practice. The position was a weak spot at times in 2018; and one of the starters, Mack Wilson, is gone. So we’ll be looking for both overall improvement and who plays next to the returning starter, Dylan Moses.
Dylan Moses - The junior will be expected to lead the defense from the Mike spot in his second year as a starter. And while there were some struggles as a sophomore, Moses still led the team tackles. In fact, this will be the first time that Alabama returns its leading tackler since 2013 when C.J. Mosley came back for his senior season. Moses has been named to several preseason award watch lists, including the Butkus Award, the Bednarik Award, and the Nagurski Trophy.
Guy Who Has Been With The First Team
Joshua McMillon - As I mentioned in my spring preview of the ILBs, McMillon was likely to get the first shot at starting, and he did. The redshirt senior played with the first team during the spring and started there at A-Day. He certainly may be pressed from the talented underclassmen behind him; but if he loses the starting gig, it will be from their good play and not poor play from him. In addition to acquitting himself well, McMillon has the most experience, both in terms of years at Alabama and in playing time, of any of the guys competing for that open starting spot.
The Other Guys
Markail Benton - Things have been pretty quiet around Benton, now a redshirt sophomore. He played special teams and served as a back-up last year, recording 14 total tackles. While he didn’t have any particularly flashy plays during A-Day, that’s no knock on him. It’s just led to there being little talk. Dylan Moses did bring Benton up at SEC Media Days: “He pushes me every day in practice, and I push him. I am on him more than ever...I have seen potential and a light that he has that could shine very bright. I want him to reach all of his potential and do what he can to be in the position I am in.”
Jaylen Moody - As a recruit, Moody was the lowest-rated of the inside linebackers. He was a 3 star and a late addition to the Class of 2018. Moody hasn’t let that affect him, though. Despite not enrolling early, he earned a role on special teams from the very first game; and he contributed in every game except the Mississippi State one. Moody did a good enough job that the coaching staff named him Special Teams Player of the Week twice. At A-Day, Moody played with the first team defense as a second string inside linebacker. The sophomore looked good, including this lovely pick-six to seal the win and the steaks.
Ale Kaho - Like Moody, Kaho was a late addition to the team in 2018, not arriving until fall camp had already started in August. Also like Moody, Kaho made an impact on special teams and earned Special Teams Player of the Week honors twice. Kaho missed a few practices at the beginning of the spring because of some personal issues before returning. After his return, he was practicing at the back of the rotation. Kaho has certainly flashed plenty of talent and could be a factor at inside linebacker; but, again as I said in my spring preview, the most important thing is his well-being. Hopefully he resolves and takes care of everything.
The True Freshmen
Shane Lee - The former four star enrolled early and was able to take part in spring practice and A-Day. Lee is thickly built at 6’0, 245lbs, and it shows on screen. There are some concerns he doesn’t have the top end sideline-to-sideline speed; however, at least at A-Day, that didn’t show up. He led the team with 8 tackles, and Brent aptly described him thus:“he looks like a humanoid boulder flying around the field and knocking people down.” Lee looked solid in pass coverage and even hauled in a nice interception.
Christian Harris - Harris was also a four star recruit, one Alabama plucked out of LSU’s backyard. He’s listed at 6’2, 244lbs; so he’s got some mass to him as well. Harris was a versatile player in high school, playing on both sides of the ball. He lined up at wide receiver, cornerback, linebacker, and even returned some punts. I’m going to steal a little more from Brent:
“Though his forty-yard dash and shuttle are decent enough for a linebacker, his 35 inch vertical jump is outstanding and his powerball toss is otherworldly. Only Evan Neal and Emil Ekiyor have had bigger displays of strength of any Alabama recruit since SPARQ scores have started being published — and they both had well over 100 pounds on him.”
Projected Depth Chart
Mike: Dylan Moses, Shane Lee, Markail Benton
Will: Joshua McMillon, Jaylen Moody, Ale Kaho, Christian Harris
No change for the first team. Moses is entrenched as a starter. McMillon has a solid grasp on the other starting spot...for now. I’m still sticking with him until one of the younger guys makes a move and passes him. For the second team, I’m going with Lee and Moody after their A-Day performances. Benton has consistently been with the second team and could easily stay there...but where’s the fun in that? I’ll predict Lee passes him up by the end of fall camp. Kaho is still the wildcard, and Harris is basically an unknown.
Another factor to watch is whether Alabama will play different linebackers in different packages. Saban said as much at SEC Media Days.