While there isn’t a ton of drama surrounding the inside linebacker battles, Alabama fans are nonetheless likely keeping a close eye on it after last year.
The Tide entered fall camp with two veteran starters and exited fall camp with two true freshmen starters. The injuries to Dylan Moses and Joshua McMillon were huge blows for the defense; and, while Shane Lee and Christian Harris are talented players, there were growing pains.
Benton is the only departure for the inside linebacker corps. He redshirted his first year on campus and played primarily on special teams in his second year. As a redshirt sophomore and with Alabama’s injury issues at the position, he saw his most extensive playing time, including some drives during the LSU game. This past spring, Benton was suspended from the team, eventually entering the transfer portal. He’s now with Jacksonville State.
The former 5 star saw extensive action as a freshman before earning a starting job as a sophomore. His performance that year was good enough to garner second team All-SEC honors, and he was also named a Butkus Award finalist. He was set to take over leadership of the defense as a junior before suffering a season-ending injury just days before the opener. Moses opted to return for the 2020 season and has stepped right back into a first team role.
Alabama pulled Harris right out of LSU’s backyard in the Class of 2019. He didn’t arrive on campus until the summer, but he quickly impressed. When Joshua McMillon suffered his injury in fall camp, Harris, the ILB with the least amount of time in the system, was moved up to starter. His freshman campaign had its ups and downs, of course; but there was consistent improvement from beginning to end, culminating in his most impressive performance of the year against Michigan. In the glimpses of practice we’ve seen so far, Harris has been on the first team with Moses.
Like Harris, Lee was thrust into a starting role when Moses suffered his injury. Like Harris, he also had his struggles, which was to be expected. Unlike Harris, I don’t think we saw that same consistent improvement week over week, though there was some improvement, of course. Still, Lee finished second on the team in tackles and fourth in tackles for loss; and he was voted to Freshman All-America teams and Freshman-All SEC teams by various groups. Among SEC freshmen, he led in tackles, tied for second in sacks, and was fourth in tackles for loss.
Other Returning Players
McMillon is back for his sixth season at Alabama (and he could return for a seventh and not count against scholarship limits next year if he so chose). Other members of his freshman class? Calvin Ridley, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Daron Payne. McMillon didn’t play at all until his third year on campus and then played fairly sparingly. He was set to finally get that starting position as a redshirt senior before he suffered a season-ending injury in fall camp. McMillon opted to return, however, for at least one more year.
Kaho has been a special teams stud in his first two years. The coaching staff has named him special teams player of the week twice as a freshman, and Kaho kept it up as a sophomore, earning the honor thrice. He blocked three punts (tied for second-most in a single season in school history) in 2019, returning one for a touchdown. Kaho also earned some snaps on defense and played some fullback/H-back in goal line packages. Saban mentioned that Kaho was the only player dealing with an injury (knee) at the start of fall camp, but he returned to practice this week.
Moody was a low-rated 3 star who joined the Class of 2018 late in the process. He has also made his bones on special teams, being named special teams player of the week twice as a freshman and twice as a sophomore. His five special teams tackles last year were tied for second-most on the team.
Kennedy was a borderline 5 star recruit; and, beyond the flashy Bryce Young, he is one of the members of the Class of 2020 I’m most excited about (Brian Branch as well). Here’s some of what Brent said about Kennedy in his Meet the News Guys series:
Kennedy is a mash-up of the versatility and body-type of Rashaan Evans with the missile-imitating tackling force of Reuben Foster. He can play pretty much any linebacker position, but I think he’ll be best in the same role as Evans played throughout his career— mostly a blitzer and occasional edge rusher early on, but evolving into a true Mike linebacker that becomes the heart of the defense...He’s comfortable lining up out as a slot cornerback if needed, and made plenty of plays in pass coverage, so he really will be able to play in pretty much any situation.
Kennedy is listed at just 215lbs, so he could still use a little bulking up. But read that and try not to get excited for his future.
Bratton was a 4 star who enrolled early (as did Kennedy). He has slimmed down 8lbs in that time, listed at a svelte 225lbs. Since we haven’t had a chance to see much of the true freshmen, I’m going to lean on Brent again here.
Bratton is an all-around, prototypical Will linebacker. His best attribute is his quickness to chase down ball-carriers on outside runs, screens, and scrambles (a breath of fresh air after the Tide struggled so much with that this past year). He’s comfortable navigating around blockers, receivers, and other carnage to nimbly slip through and make tackles before the offensive player gets around the edge of the defense. That same quick first step serves him really well when blitzing up the middle, and he’s often able to jump snaps and make a quick sack just by surprising the offensive lineman. When he does get blocked, he does a good job of using that same speed in tandem with a low center of gravity to hit the blocker with a jolt of energy and knock them backwards.
Predicted Depth Chart
Mike: Dylan Moses, Shane Lee, Demouy Kennedy
Will: Christian Harris, Joshua McMillon, Ale Kaho
I’d be surprised if Moses and Harris aren’t the starting inside linebackers. Moses can be one of the best defenders in the conference. Harris has a year in the system and a year of starting experience; that, combined with his talent and athleticism, should have people excited.
Lee is knocked down to the second team because of Moses, and I’ll go with McMillon next to him because of his time in the system. If it all clicks for Kaho, I could see him passing up McMillon; but the older veteran gets the nod for now.