The competition at outside linebacker is one of the more intriguing storylines for Alabama. The Tide lost both starters from 2019, the returning back-ups don’t have a ton of experience, and there are true freshmen making noise.
When healthy, Lewis was a beast. Unfortunately, we rarely got to see a fully healthy Lewis. Injuries cost him almost the entirety of 2017 and the entirety of 2018. He was nicked up for parts of 2019 as well. Those healthy flashes were something to see, however, like when recorded 6 QB hurries in a single half against Arkansas. Lewis decided not to risk another injury and sat out the Citrus Bowl, and he was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the third round.
Jennings redshirted his first season, was an important back-up in his second season, and then started three straight seasons. He racked up 193 career tackles, 33.5 tackles for loss, and 14.5 sacks. His 11 pass break-ups in 2018 led the team. His 8 sacks in 2019 led the team. Jennings garnered first team All-SEC honors in 2019 from both the AP and the coaches, and he went on to be drafted by the New England Patriots in the third round. He was a great, consistent player for Alabama.
Returning Player With the Most Experience But Technically Isn’t a Starter
Technically, Allen, a redshirt junior, didn’t have any starts. He stepped up in place of Terrell Lewis for the Citrus Bowl, but the team listed its nickel package as the starting line-up. Anyway. Allen played in seven games as a freshman in 2017 with a bigger role than initially expected after some injuries to the outside linebackers in the opener. Allen suffered his own injury in fall camp before the 2018 season and missed the entire year. He came back to play in all 13 games in 2019, and he was the first man up after Anfernee Jennings and Lewis. Allen has been with the first team this fall, and it would be a surprise if he didn’t open the season as a starter.
Other Returning Players
Davis, a redshirt senior, looks ready to substantially contribute this season. He has battled some injuries during his career and spent time bouncing back and forth between inside and outside linebacker. Davis settled in at OLB last year, however, and earned some snaps as a back-up and on special teams while playing in 11 games. He recorded his first sack and now leads all outside linebackers in career sacks. Davis has been working with the first team consistently during fall camp; and, even with some talented youngsters nipping at his heels, he could have a big role early on.
Parks is entering his third season. He was originally a member of the Class of 2017, but the 4 star recruit took a greyshirt with the Tide and didn’t enroll until 2018. Parks redshirted that year and then carved out playing time in five games last year. In his second career game, against Ole Miss, he notched a QB hurry that led to an interception.
Mwikuta impressed as a true freshman in 2019. He played on special teams while also working in on the defense. Mwikuta ultimately played in 10 games, giving him the third-most game experience among the outside linebackers, and made four tackles. He does have the more experienced Allen and Davis and the hyped true freshmen (whom I’m coming to) to contend with.
Harris was a member of the Class of 2019 with Mwikuta. He was higher-rated than Mwikuta, but he needed to bulk up some and redshirted, not appearing in any games. Harris now has a year under his belt and is looking to find a role.
I think Anderson is the most-hyped true freshman since at least Minkah Fitzpatrick in 2015, possibly even more so. Anderson blew up during the Army All-America Bowl, impressing during the practices and the game itself, which earned him fifth star and a top 20 ranking. Since fall camp has begun, we have been inundated with reports of how Anderson may already be one of the Tide’s best defenders. Fellow teammates have praised him. Nick Saban has praised him as well. All this before Anderson has had a chance to play a single snap. On the one hand, it’s not fair to heap high expectations on a true freshman in a situation like this. On the other hand, if he comes close to living up to the hype…
Sanders, a 5 star recruit like Anderson, was committed to Oklahoma for a long time before he flipped to the Tide. Anderson has gotten much of the hype, but Sanders has drawn praise as well with Saban specifically mentioning him as showing promise. He is listed at 6’5, 230lbs, which gives him impressive length on the outside; and he had strong testing numbers coming in (there’s a reason he was ranked as the #1 ATH in the 247 Composite).
Braswell is the third of the 5 star OLBs Alabama signed in the Class of 2020. He hasn’t had the headlines of Anderson and Sanders, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a talented player. Like Anderson and Sanders, Braswell enrolled early. Obviously he missed out on the chance to prove himself during spring practice, but being in and around the program for a longer period of time is still beneficial.
Robinson rounds out the impressive outside linebacker haul from the Class of 2020. He was only one of the bunch to not enroll early; and, like Braswell, he is listed at just 220lbs. That said, Robinson had some impressive testing numbers and has plenty of potential. Here’s a little of what Brent had to say about him in his Meet the News Guys series.
He’s actually already shown a good understanding of being able to take on blockers at the edge and shutting down runs. He’s got the power to be able to hold his ground against an offensive lineman, and still has the speed to disengage and chase down a guy with the ball. As such, I would guess that Alabama would be looking to groom to be a versatile Sam linebacker who can contain outside runs as well as drop into pass coverage or pass rush.
Sam: Christopher Allen, King Mwikuta
Jack: Ben Davis, Will Anderson/Drew Sanders
Allen seems like a lock to start. Davis is less so; but I’m still giving him the nod, especially early on in the season. That said, starting does not mean the most playing time. Alabama will play plenty of nickel defense, which could bring Davis off the field. Pete Golding mentioned the true freshman and using them in a sort of designated pass-rusher role to get them and their talent on the field. So guys who are nominally back-ups could end up seeing a bunch of snaps as well.