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Vote for the RBR All-Saban Team: Inside Linebackers

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The heart and soul of the Alabama defense.... How can we possibly choose?

Alabama v Auburn Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

After wrapping up the outside linebackers, we now move on to the middle linebackers.

The rules are fairly simple here, but also they absolutely will not be totally consistent. I’m making them up as we go and each position will be handled differently. I will choose the top candidates for spots on the All-Saban team, and different members of the RBR staff will present their argument to you as to why his player should be considered over the others. There is no criteria on the type of argument, so anything from stats, to important plays, to NFL performance is fair game.

The inside backer position has always been the most important cog of the Nick Saban defense since 2007, though the roles have changed over time. The defense has shifted from that inside linebacker needing to be a powerful enforcer to someone who can run sideline-to-sideline and cover passes. Regardless, their performance and intellect has always been integral to making a defense work.

For today’s vote, you’ll hear arguments for Rolando McClain, Donta Hightower, C.J. Mosley, Reggie Ragland, and Rueben Foster. There will then be two polls with all five candidates. Vote for the guy you think is the very best in the first poll and the runner up in the second poll.

I’ll tally the votes and come up with the two first team starters and two second-teamers. Make sense?

BamaBrave4 on Rolando McClain

Most everybody agrees that the signing of Julio Jones was the turning point that signaled to the college football world that Nick Saban and Alabama were going to become a serious problem. But the first truly elite Saban player was already on campus in Tuscaloosa before that happened. Alabama had some great defensive players in the years the preceded Saban’s arrival, but when the 6’4, 240 pound four star ILB from Decatur hit the field in 2007, you could just tell this guy was on another level.

Rolando McClain immediately took over as a starter inside in Saban’s newly-implemented 3-4 defense. As a true freshman, McClain finished 4th on the team in tackles with 74 total, to go along with 5 TFL, a sack, and a pair of picks. He was named to the SEC All-Freshman team for his work.

The next season, Ro became the undisputed captain of the defense, calling out all plays, formations, and audibles at the Mike linebacker spot. He was often cited as being an extension of Nick Saban out on the field. His alpha-dog intensity also helped shape what Alabama defenses would look like under Saban, as McClain finished the 2008 season with a team high in both tackles (95) and TFLs (12). He also added three sacks and another interception, as he guided Alabama to their first elite defense in the Saban era. He was named First Team All-SEC.

His junior season in 2009 was historic. He, once again, led the Tide in tackles (105) and TFLs (14.5), adding four sacks and another two picks. More importantly though, he quarterbacked a legendary defense to a second-straight undefeated season. This time though, Alabama capped it off with its first SEC Championship in a decade and it’s first National Championship in 17 years. McClain was named an unanimous First Team All-American, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and was the recipient of the Butkus Award for the nation’s top linebacker.

Ro went out on top as a member of Saban’s only undefeated team, and was drafted 8th overall by the Oakland Raiders in the 2010 NFL Draft. He remains 11th all-time in school history in total tackles with 274, despite only playing for three seasons at the Capstone. The inside linebacker position has really defined Nick Saban’s defenses at Alabama, and Rolando McClain remains the standard by which the rest to follow are/were measured.

Roger on C.J. Mosley

C J Mosley deserves to be on the All Saban team as an inside linebacker. The 4* recruit out of Theodore, AL was the 6th ranked outside linebacker in the country, and the 2nd ranked player in the state (behind Dee Milner) coming out for high school

Despite playing behind several veterans, Mosley was a freshman All American in 2010, totaling 67 total tackles. In his sophomore season Mosley was sharing time with Nico Johnson when he dislocated his elbow against Arkansas and missed several games.

Mosley really hit his stride in 2012, being named All SEC and consensus All American, tallying 107 tackles, and helping the team to their second consecutive National Championship. In 2013 Mosley was again All SEC and All American, unanimously, and being both co-SEC Defensive Player Of The Year as well as winning the Butkus award as the nations best linebacker.

For his career Mosley totaled 317 tackles with 6.5 sacks, 23 tackles for loss, five interceptions, with three returned for touchdowns.

Mosley was chosen as the 17th pick in the 2013 by the Baltimore Ravens and became an instant star. In 2019 CJ became a free agent and signed a record 5 year/85Million dollar deal with the NY Jets.

A versatile, talented, smart, football player, Mosley will ever be praised for his time in Crimson. Honor him with your vote.

RTR. Believe In The Process

Brent on Dont’a Hightower:

A middling 4-star linebacker prospect out of Tennessee, Dont’a Hightower was ranked just outside the top 300 recruits when he signed with Alabama. But, along with Julio Jones, Hightower was one of the major impact freshmen for Alabama in that resurgent 2008 season. He was a starter at inside linebacker aside the entrenched Rolando McClain from day one, and turned that year into a unanimous Freshman All-American selection.

Unfortunately, a torn ACL at the start of his sophomore year saw Alabama go on to win the first national championship that kicked off the historic dynasty we know today. Hightower rehabbed, and was back on the field and ready to go as the leader of the defense in 2010 as he replaced McClain as the mike linebacker.

He returned for a 4th year despite his 1st round draft projections, and was the heart and soul of one of the best defenses in college football history— leading the team with 81 tackles and adding 9.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, an interception, and a blocked field goal. He was a finalist for the Butkus Award, Bednarik Award, Lombardi Award, and Lott Trophy while also being named a unanimous All-American (and the only reason he lost the Butkus was because Luke Kuechly had about 71 million tackles for Boston College that year).

Oh, and he did this in the most impressive defensive effort in a national championship game the NCAA will ever see:

A 260-pound man with the size of a defensive lineman and the 4.68 speed of a linebacker, Hightower was a QB’s worst nightmare on blitzes and could totally eradicate any sort of run in any direction.

That kind of versatility, attitude, and pure athleticism led to him becoming a first round draft pick for the New England Patriots, where, again, he became a day 1 starter. Hightower has since been a mainstay for the best team in the NFL every single season from 2012-2019 (excluding one where he hurt his knee again) and has routinely been in the top echelon of linebackers in the NFL.

Oh, and, without him, the Pats would very likely have two... maybe three... less Super Bowl victories.

First, he stopped Marshawn Lynch on the 1 yard line on what looked like it was going to be a game-winning touchdown. The following play was a very infamous interception that I won’t talk about further.

Two years later, he made this strip sack on Matt Ryan that afforded New England enough time on the clock to have a chance at that even more infamous 28-3 comeback.

And finally, his ability to defend the pass despite being the size of a lineman helped the Patriots shut down the Rams newfangled passing attack based on crossers and misdirection in the 2018 Super Bowl.

The only time the Pats lost a Super Bowl they went to? 2017. The year Hightower was injured.

Hightower, though overshadowed in the awards in 2011 by Luke Kuechly, captained the best defense Alabama has ever fielded, is the most impressive and versatile athlete at linebacker of this entire grouping, and has put together by far the best pro career.

For my vote, he’s the best linebacker we’ve seen at Alabama under Nick Saban.

Josh on Reggie Ragland

Reggie Ragland was a fan favorite as a local kid who could have gone anywhere as the top ranked ILB in his class, but never entertained anywhere other than his beloved Crimson Tide despite a loaded depth chart. He was also the last of the old school thumpers, a 250 lb. punisher who was also surprisingly nimble in coverage for his size.

Ragland bided his time on special teams and in mop-up duty for two seasons before earning a starting job in 2014, tallying 93 tackles plus an interception and a forced fumble. The national championship season of 2015 was Ragland’s real breakout. Serving as the signal caller on one of Saban’s very best defenses that season, Reggie totaled 102 tackles and forced two more fumbles while leading a front seven that allowed a paltry 2.4 yards per carry. His size poses some limitations for him, but you’d be hard pressed to find a better teammate and leader. Reggie deserves serious consideration in a crowded field.

DrWhosOnFirst on Reuben Foster

Reuben Foster would be an Alabama legend even if he had never dominated on the field.

He was a 5 star recruit in the Class of 2013 and the #6 overall prospect. Foster originally committed to Alabama before flipping to Auburn and getting an Auburn tattoo. Of course, Foster ultimately spurned the Tigers and flipped back to the Tide, tattoo and all.

He spent his first two seasons largely as a back-up and special teams monster (though he did make one start in place of a suspended Trey DePriest), delivering hits like this one.

With DePriest’s departure after 2014, Foster finally stepped into a starting role. And he was excellent. As a junior and in his first year starting, Foster finished second on the team in tackles (73). He finished fourth in tackles for loss (8); but that’s more impressive when you realize only Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams, and Ryan Anderson had more. Foster wasn’t just a run-stopping, tackling machine either; he finished second on the team in pass break-ups (9), only behind a young freshman named Minkah Fitzpatrick.

Foster returned for his senior season and took over the Mike linebacker duties. He proceeded to put together an impressive final year. Foster racked up 115 tackles, easily leading the team; it was also the ninth-highest total in school history and the most by any Alabama player under Nick Saban. Foster also finished with 13 tackles for loss and 5 sacks, with 8 QB hurries and 2 pass break-ups for good measure. The coaching staff named him a defensive player of the week eight times over the season.

His performance netted him the Butkus Award, which goes to the nation’s top linebacker; and he was a unanimous All-American. Foster was also named as one of the team captains.

He may have only had two seasons as a starter, but they were both dominant seasons. Foster played with a beautiful violence that you just loved to watch. There have been many great inside linebackers under Saban, but Foster was the best of them.

Poll

Who was Alabama’s best inside linebacker?

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    Donta Hightower
    (96 votes)
  • 1%
    Reggie Ragland
    (6 votes)
  • 37%
    Rolando McClain
    (144 votes)
  • 7%
    Reuben Foster
    (29 votes)
  • 28%
    C.J. Mosley
    (108 votes)
383 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Who was Alabama’s next best inside linebacker?

This poll is closed

  • 27%
    Donta Hightower
    (97 votes)
  • 1%
    Reggie Ragland
    (5 votes)
  • 28%
    Rolando McClain
    (102 votes)
  • 10%
    Reuben Foster
    (37 votes)
  • 32%
    C.J. Mosley
    (114 votes)
355 votes total Vote Now