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2023 Alabama Crimson Tide Spring Football Preview: Who will emerge at Inside Linebacker?

A two year starter in the middle is off to the NFL, and the competition should be fierce.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 31 Allstate Sugar Bowl Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Inside linebacker is a spot that will require an overhaul for the 2023 campaign, as starting MLB Henry To’o To’o is off to test the NFL waters along with another key rotational piece in Jaylen Moody. Fortunately some strong recruiting has been done in this area, enough so that there is reason for optimism. As is the case with most defensive schemes, Saban’s is at its best when he has a couple of dominant sideline-to-sideline dudes at the ILB spots.

There isn’t a single high school recruit in the mix this spring, so we should see some spirited competition among a bevy of upperclassmen.

The Heir Apparent

#32 Deontae Lawson - RS So.

NCAA Football: Alabama at Florida Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Lawson was an early enrollee in the 2021 class and immediately flashed in the spring game before taking a redshirt year. Last season he worked his way into the rotation and started four games, including the Sugar Bowl against Kansas State. At 6’2” and a solid 230 lb. Lawson should be stout enough against the run and has shown himself quite capable in coverage as well. Of course, should he be the starting Mike as expected the mental side of the game will be equally important as he will be charged with diagnosing and communicating assignments in real time.

Unfortunately, Lawson joins Dallas Turner on the injured list this spring and thus both key linebacking groups will be operating without their likely leaders. This will provide ample opportunity for those competing to be his running mate to show what they can do.


#17 Trezmen Marshall - Senior

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 01 Georgia at Missouri

I put Marshall at the top of this list for the simple reason that it seems unlikely for Saban to have taken a senior transfer at the position unless he felt there was a need. Marshall didn’t get much playing time in his first three seasons at Georgia, and played only as a reserve in his fourth. Still, Saban saw enough from Trezmen to bring him into the fold. Marshall is on the thicker side compared to most modern ILBs and has four years of practice time in essentially the same scheme. It will be interesting to see what his role turns out to be.

#28 Justin Jefferson - Junior

Unfortunately we don’t yet have any photos of Justin, the second newcomer to be atop the list and for the same reason: when Saban dips into the JUCO ranks, he is usually looking for an immediate impact. Jefferson was highly productive at Pearl River Community College to become the 2nd ranked JUCO prospect on the 247 composite behind WR Malik Benson who is also now enrolled at Alabama. Justin can fly, reportedly posting a 4.34 in the 40. He played at a smallish 215 lbs. last year but has added ten since arriving in Tuscaloosa. Physically, he is a Rashaan Evans clone. Let’s hope that Alabama can get Evans-type production from him.

#30 Jihaad Campbell - So.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 31 Allstate Sugar Bowl Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Coming out of IMG Academy in the 2022 class, Campbell was actually listed as an edge prospect on the 247 composite and a very good one, rating five stars and ranked 2nd at the position behind Jeremiah Alexander. For whatever reason, he was almost immediately moved inside upon arrival in Tuscaloosa and has competed there since. The 6’3”, 230 pounder reportedly came on strong during bowl camp and earned himself a bit of run against Kansas State. He should be considered a prime contender.

#36 Ian Jackson - RS So.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 10 CFP National Championship Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Jackson was a solid four-star recruit out of powerhouse Prattville High School, but as the 14th ranked ILB prospect in his class he was always going to have a long path to playing time at Alabama and has seen very little action in his first two seasons. He’s still around, however, entering year three in the program and will get his opportunity to push for time. He is solidly built at 6’1” and 235 lbs. and should be stout against the interior run if nothing else.

#40 Kendrick Blackshire - Junior

NCAA Football: Alabama at Florida Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Blackshire made waves as a recruit when some pictures surfaced of him, showing a physique that looked more like a seasoned NFL vet than a high schooler. Thus far, the 8th-ranked ILB in the 2021 class has mostly played on special teams. He did see a few snaps in reserve last season, however, so he certainly shouldn’t be written off in the competition. Blackshire is built very similarly to Jackson and profiles as a run stuffer.

#43 Shawn Murphy - RS Fr.

Alabama v Ole Miss Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

Murphy is one of those guys whose high school play exceeded his measurables, which always makes for an intriguing prospect. He came to Alabama as the 6th ranked ILB in the 2022 class after winning the High School Butkus award his senior season. The knock on Murphy is that he’s about the same size as Jefferson at 6’2” and 225 lb. but doesn’t have elite speed, running a verified 4.8 in the 40 yard dash. Some players are able to play faster than their sprint speed at the position thanks to elite instincts and lateral quickness, and Murphy’s high school tape showed just that. It will be interesting to watch his development.