Editor’s note: Every Tuesday and Thursday between now and national signing day, TideNation will review each position and look at who figures to start, who could rise up the depth chart and who might be on the way. Today we’ll look at the linebackers.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama didn't lack for options at linebacker this season. What the Crimson Tide lost in experience from a year ago, it made up for with depth. Their best and most productive linebacker wasn't even a starter technically.
C.J. Mosley, the junior inside linebacker who leads the team with 99 tackles, wasn't the clear-cut No. 1 at his position. Instead, he shared time with either Nico Johnson or Trey DePriest depending on the formation and down and distance. Next season he won't have to. It's part of the reason why he put the NFL on hold and announced last week that he would return for his senior season.
"First-year starter, officially," Mosley joked when asked about his goals next year. "Just going from there and being the best that I can be."
He continued, pointing out that his resume wasn't complete: "Yeah, that was a big hole, a big gap. We just have to finish this season strong and be ready for next year because it comes around fast."
Mosley needs one more tackle to become the first Alabama defensive player to break the century mark since Rolando McClain. Not bad for a linebacker who's best known for his play in the nickel. His return strengthens a unit that loses just one starter next season.
"They're so fortunate to have that guy back on the field with them," defensive end Damion Square explained. "He's one of the best guys I've played with on the field...The guy doesn't really say much but he's so physical, so tough. He's not a very big linebacker, but he plays like he's Ray Lewis or something. He plays so big out on the field. He's great at everything he does. He can pass rush. He can play the run. He can play the pass. There's nothing that coach has ever asked of this guy that he cannot do."
Battling for No. 1: Mosley will be the veteran man starting at linebacker next season. He'll likely be joined by DePriest at inside linebacker, Adrian Hubbard at SAM and Xzavier Dickson at JACK in the 3-4 set. Hubbard showed flashes of talent rushing the passer in 2011, leading the team with 10 tackles for loss and six sacks. Dickson was tied for third with 3.5 sacks and found himself sharing time with Denzel Devall down the stretch.
Strength in numbers: Devall should figure into the rotation in 2013. The former four-star commit had two sacks during the regular season. He and fellow freshman Reggie Ragland, Tyler Hayes and Dillon Lee will all compete for playing time. Ragland and Hayes have made a name for themselves on special teams, while Lee's play has tapered off dramatically from the start of the season. Ryan Anderson, another talented freshman who could figure into the picture at JACK, will likely finish as a redshirt this season and begin 2013 with four more years of eligibility. Jonathan Atchinson and Tana Patrick could serve as two veteran reserves off the bench.
Help on the way: It seems like every year coach Nick Saban recruits more and more versatile linebackers. The position of choice: JACK. The hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker role attracts big, athletic pass-rushers who might be a tad too large for pass coverage and a tad too small to play with their hand on the ground on the line. In Saban's system they fit just right. A pair of 2013 commitments in Jonathan Allen and DeMarcus Walker are prime examples. Both four stars are rated in the top five of defensive ends by ESPN but could very well end up playing outside linebacker at the next level. The only pure linebacker committed for next season is Walker Jones. Four-star athlete Kendell Beckwith, who projects as a linebacker at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, will decide between Alabama and LSU at the Under Armour All-American Game on Jan. 4. The Crimson Tide are still a dark horse candidate for former four-star commitment Reuben Foster, who is also considering Auburn, Georgia, LSU and Washington.