How things can change. At the start of fall practice, it looked like Alabama would start two veterans at inside linebacker. Dylan Moses started a couple games as a freshman and then every game last year while Joshua McMillon, though untested in actual games, was in his fifth year in the program.
Less than a month later, two true freshmen, one of whom has only been on campus for a few months, trotted out at inside linebacker. Christian Harris got rave reviews for his performance in fall camp, and he began running with the first team after McMillon’s injury. Shane Lee then assumed the Mike linebacker duties when Dylan Moses went down just days before the opener.
Thrown into the fire, both backers performed well, each notching 6 tackles and helping disrupt some passes. Their play wasn’t perfect, but it was encouraging to see from the youngsters. If you want to see how they did with a more advanced look and some pretty graphs (and, trust me, you do), check out balloons graphs here.
3rd and 6: Alabama’s in its dime package with Duke going with five wide, and Lee (#35) is the lone linebacker. There are two receivers on Duke’s right. The inside guy stems outside before running downfield to take away both defensive backs while the outside guy runs a crossing route underneath. Lee takes a couple steps forward while watching the quarterback Quentin Harris. Lee follows Harris’s eyes towards the underneath receiver and picks him up. Harris has to throw it quickly because of pressure from Anfernee Jennings (#33) and what looks to be LaBryan Ray (#89). Lee closes on the receiver and bumps into him right around when the ball arrives, knocking him down. He might have gotten there a little early; but if he did, it was close enough that there was no call.
4th and 1: Duke has some momentum early after recovering Jerome Ford’s fumble deep in Alabama territory and has a chance to score first. Duke’s in shotgun with a tight end inline on the right and another tight end as the H-back on the left. Raekwon Davis (#99) slices through the right tackle and guard, getting a little penetration. The running back cuts back to the hole to the right...and Shane Lee is patiently waiting for him. Lee wasn’t drawn out of position or anything by the motioning wide receiver; he stayed at home in his gap and made the play.
2nd and 6: Lee is alone in the middle here while Harris (#8) is on the right edge of the line. He comes around unblocked; but even with his speed, there’s no way for him to get anywhere close on this run up the middle. Lee takes a step forward and allows himself to get engulfed by the right guard who has quickly moved up to the second level. Raekwon Davis was also moved out of the way, paving a huge hole for the back. Lee can’t get free, and the Blue Devils have a big gain.
1st and 10: Harris is on the right side of the defense over a receiver. He doesn’t get distracted by or tangled up with that receiver, as he’s responsible for the running back, who is releasing into the flat. Harris quickly runs over and makes contact to break up the pass.
3rd and 2: Lee is shaded over to the strong side of the Duke formation; and Christian Harris is in the middle, over the A gap (between the center and guard). QB Quentin Harris steps back and fakes going outside before pushing straight up the middle. I assume the left guard is trying to cut block Christian Harris, but he doesn’t get low enough. Harris shrugs it off, stands his ground, and stands up the other Harris for no gain.
2nd and 12: Duke’s going with an empty backfield again; and Harris, on the left side of the defense, is on the tight end Noah Gray (#87 for Duke). Harris is a little slow to get his feet moving after the snap; and when he does, he shuffles to the left, to the outside. This is all Gray needs as he breaks inside on a quick slant. Gray has several steps on Harris, who wraps him up but is dragged forward another 7 or so yards.