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Alabama Football Recruiting 2023: Meet the New Guys - Linebackers

Most of Nick Saban’s first half of his time at Alabama featured the best linebackers in the country. Is the class to get the Tide back to that standard?

NCAA Football: BCS Championship-Alabama vs LSU Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, we kicked off the defensive half of this series by taking a good, long look at each of Alabama’s new players on the defensive line. Today, we finish up the front seven with a big group of linebackers.

For the purposes of this article, we will include both Edge players and off-ball linebackers. Saban generally lists his edge rushers as LBs on’s roster in accordance with his heritage as a base 3-4 defense guy, so we’ll keep that distinction as well.

As I mentioned last week, guys like Jordan Renaud and Hunter Osborne are edge/DE players in some defensive schemes, but they are listed as DL on Alabama’s roster and do not seem to be in line to play any linebacker.

With Will Anderson, Jr., Henry To’o To’o and Jaylen Moody all moving on from the program, there are multiple starting spots up for grabs if any of these newcomers are able to come in and beat out last year’s back up players.

As always, I’ll be giving a short summary on each player, any info on his athletic profile (SPARQ is dead, sadly), my thoughts on his traits, and how I think he’ll fit in Alabama’s depth chart and scheme. All rankings and heights/weights will be from the 247Sports Composite, as I think they do the best job at rating and ranking players. Though I will mention if any of the other services have a particularly different opinion on certain player.

Be warned... We have a lot of 5-star players today. Roll Tide!

Keon Keeley

We’ll start out with the biggest name in Alabama’s 2023 class. As the #2 overall prospect in the 2023 class, Keeley is, by 247Sports’ rankings, the 6th best recruit that Nick Saban has ever signed at Alabama. In his last two years of high school, Keeley racked up an absurd 36 sacks and 59 tackles for loss and has played in a state championship as well as played against (and sacked!) Arch Manning.

He was originally a Notre Dame commit before backing off last summer and taking the Fall of 2022 to decide on a new school, finally picking Alabama over, well, every other school in the country.

He is considered the #1 edge rusher in the class by all four recruiting services.

As far as measureables, he self-reports a 4.6s forty yard dash. Which is pretty terrifying for someone his size.

Unfortunately, he did not enroll early, and so will arrive in Tuscaloosa this summer.


Keeley is so tall and athletic that he stands out above everyone and just utterly dominates the high school field. He mostly rushes the edge from a stand up position, but he definitely moves to a 3-point stance regularly to take on blockers more directly.

As a pass rusher, he offers pretty much everything you could ask for. First and foremost, he’s got insane closing speed and will turn a tiny opening into a devastating QB hit before you can blink. He’s absolutely excellent at bull rushing a blocker backwards, getting them off-balance, and then slipping around them to finish things off.

But at the same time, he’s just as comfortable going for a pure speed rush and just flat out beating an OT around the outside to the QB.

Then throw all of that in with a nice repertoire of counter-moves (spins and crossover side steps) and you have a guy that, well, racks up nearly 20 sacks in 12 games.

On top of that, his tackling is violent. I worry he may get a few penalties in college as his tackles tend to be the kind that levels QBs and will draw a referee’s eyeball even if he’s making the hit just as the ball is coming out.

As a run defender, he, like Will Anderson, just blows up attempts at read options with his speed and wingspan. And he’s quite adept at cutting back across his blocker to make backside tackles. He’ll need to add some bulk to really take on double teams directly and hold his ground at the college level.

We also have no real idea if he can be a player that drops into coverage or not.

Scheme Fit

At the start, Keeley is going to be a pure passing downs edge rusher. Whether it’s nickel or dime, just put him on the edge and say “go get the QB.”

As he develops his ability to hold up against the run, he has the body type to become a scheme-agnostic edge player. DE or LB doesn’t really matter.


While Alabama likely has their two starting edge players in Dallas Turner and Chris Braswell, don’t be surprised if Keeley makes some early splashes this summer and winds up getting a rotational role as a 3rd down pass rusher next year.

Yhonzae Pierre

Pierre is a bit of a smaller edge rusher who reportedly only ran a 4.75 forty yard dash. He was generally a mid-to-high 4-star prospect for most of the last couple of years before making a late push up to 5 star status at the end of his senior year.

Like Keeley, he is not enrolling in Alabama until this summer, so we won’t see him this spring.


When it comes to first-step explosiveness and mind-numbing acceleration, Yhonzae Pierre is elite to the most elite level. When the ball is snapped, he looks like he’s playing on fast forward while the other 21 players on the field are at normal speed. That kind of jump from the start of the play makes him the ultimate backfield disrupter and purveyor of chaos on many, many plays.

For the most part, he relies on that initial quickness to get a step and then blow by an offensive tackle to the QB. However, he does show a decent understanding of when to attack his blocker more head on and then cut inside of them to cut off a QB’s escape lane up the middle.

As a run stopper, he similarly has a good feel for making plays out of a 2-gap responsibility and can shoot sideways off of a blocker to make a tackle in either direction.

He’s definitely a smaller player, though, and struggles to hold his ground if his first step doesn’t get a blocker off-balance.

As a tackler, he’s like a homing missile on every play. Even if he’s blocked out of the play, he’s going to be coming from behind ready to take someone’s head off.

Scheme Fit

He’s almost built more like a weakside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme, so I’m not totally sure what the play will be for him at Alabama. Maybe he adds about 20 pounds to become a Jack linebacker and become a pure edge rusher. Or maybe he stays his current size, keeps the speed, and learns to play off-ball as a do-it-all guy who’s an explosive backside blitzer.

Regardless, he’s going to be a nightmare as a special teams gunner.


I think Pierre will take a year or two of seasoning before he’s truly ready for a starting role on the defense. But, he’ll be a special teams standout from day 1 of his freshman year.

Qua Russaw

Though listed at 230 in high school, Russaw is already up to 242 since enrolling in Tuscaloosa in January. He’s bulking up to become a college-ready linebacker/edge from day 1, and will be making a push to break into the two-deep as a freshman.

Russaw was teammates with fellow 5-star defensive tackle James Smith at Carver High in Montgomery, and the pair committed to Alabama at the same time on National Signing Day, breaking the hearts of Auburn fans across their tri-county area.

While On3, 247, and Rivals generally see him as a top-50 player in the country, ESPN actually has him at #9 overall and the top linebacker in the country.


Russaw is a versatile player who, while generally ranked as an edge rusher, can play any linebacker position with similar effectiveness. Shoot, you could probably line him up at defensive tackle and he’d hold his own.

No matter what spot he’s in, Russaw plays full-speed through the whole play on every single play. And he’s not just a small, speedy linebacker... No, he’s built like a rocked up superhero and moves about as fast as one too.

On the edge, he’s got a blinding-fast speed rush, and he’s also adept at taking on a blocker head on and setting the edge in the run game to keep things contained. He’s fast, and he really, really powerful. Seriously, he often straight-up wins shoving and leverage matches with offensive linemen much larger than him and he rarely loses any ground while being blocked. It’s like watching a small boulder that just refuses to get moved.

When he’s at middle linebacker, he displays stunning sideline-to-sideline speed to chase down ball carriers, the ability to stonewall blockers and runners up the middle, and quick reactions in the passing game to go make tackles before a receiver can get to the first down line.

Scheme Fit

Russaw has often been compared to Rashaan Evans coming out of high school as someone that starts on the edge and winds up becoming an off-ball linebacker who’s an excellent blitzer. And while that is an apt comparison, I think Russaw is much more powerful than Evans was, and I also think he is going to be groomed as an inside linebacker with formation versatility from the start.


I know there’s a lot of depth and competition for the one open spot next to Deontae Lawson, but MAN if I’m not tempted to say Russaw walks in and beats out all of the older linebackers ahead of him for a starting role. It’s a big ask, especially with the next two players I talk about also transferring in to get the same role, but this guy is really, really special. If he stands out at A-Day... watch out.

At worst, he gets significant playing time as a top backup at multiple linebacker spots this year.

Justin Jefferson

Jefferson was not even given a star as a recruit back in high school, but made a name for himself at Pearl River the last couple of years. If you believe his Hudl page (self-reported), he ran a 4.34 forty yard dash at 215 pounds.

Since enrolling at Alabama, he’s up to 225 pounds, and is listed as a junior.


While I think a 4.34s forty is a little ambitious, Jefferson is absolutely a high-energy, high-speed player who can really make plays all over the field. He excels at knifing through traffic to get to ball carriers and chasing them down to the sidelines. For the most part, his game is built on his speed and his ability to outrun anyone on the opposing offense to make tackles.

He’s an extremely effective QB spy and is better than most linebackers at reacting out of zone coverages to make plays in the passing game, though I didn’t see any examples of him doing any legit man coverage.

He’s not a strong tackler or someone that’s going to take on blocks, but as a more new-age linebacker who is going to play at warp-speed in space, he’s your guy.

Scheme Fit

Jefferson is pretty much going to be holed in to the Will linebacker position, likely with a focus on passing downs. He’s not a guy that Alabama will want around the line of scrimmage or taking on blocks too often.


I could see Jefferson carving out a role of playing as a QB spy as a matchup-specific role player. If the Tide runs into any teams that run a wide-open spread offense with a lot of QB runs or WR jet sweeps, he could find himself with a big role off the bench.

Trezmen Marshall

Once a highly regarded 4-star prospect, Marshall started his career at UGA promisingly, playing in 14 games as a special teams standout. Unfortunately, a torn labrum in the season opener ended his sophomore campaign before it began.

Then in 2021, he was working his way into the defensive rotation before tearing his knee in game 4 and missing the rest of the season.

Finally, in 2022, he played a full year as a reserve as he worked his way back into game shape from the knee injury the year before and notched 4.5 tackles for loss, an interception, and 2 pass deflections.


Marshall has been in college for four years now and there’s not too much tape on him, but we do know he’s an aggressive, hard-hitting player who’s an excellent blitzer and can play off-ball or as an edge player.

In high school, he played at all linebacker spots and was at his best as a downhill attacker who could just blow things up, whether from the middle or the edge. He was also a really good running back who just ran through arm tackles and trucked everyone.

Scheme Fit

You have to think he’s mostly being looked at as an option as the Tide’s Mike linebacker. If Deontae Lawson is not suited for Mike duties after playing Will last year... Or nobody is able to step up to play Will opposite Lawson, then I think Marshall is the insurance policy as a veteran player who brings experience and a hard-hitting mentality over from Georgia.


I think we see Marshall as a starter or at least a rotating starter early in the season, though I think he will be a player that will be the first back to the bench if a younger guy (like Russaw) really steps up and wins that spot.