2018 Crimson Tide position preview: Linebackers

Coming off a knee injury, Anfernee Jennings is hoping for a big senior season. Courtesy of Alabama Athletics

Alabama already trying to deal with injury, depth issues at linebacker

Interior linebackers

Starter: Dylan Moses, Mack Wilson

Backups: Joshua McMillon, Markail Benton, Ben Davis

New arrival: Jaylen Moody

Outside linebackers

Starter: Christian Miller, Anfernee Jennings

Backups: Jamey Mosley, Christopher Allen, Jarez Parks

Injured: Terrell Lewis

New arrivals: Eyabi Anoma, Jordan Davis, Cameron Latu

There was definitely a feeling of “Are you kidding me,” if not “Oh, no. Here we go again.”

After missing most of the 2017 season with an elbow injury suffered in the opener against Florida State, Terrell Lewis is already out with an offseason ACL injury that requited knee surgery.

The timetable for his return isn’t known, although teammate Anfernee Jennings said don’t count him out for 2018 just yet. He knows something about the injury after going through the exact same thing against Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinal.

“Very unfortunate injury,” Jennings said. “Terrell’s a great leader, great role model. Great person. You just never know with him because with our training staff, his work ethic and mind set, you never know what the season holds for him still.”

Regardless, the injury has continued a string of unfortunate setbacks for the Crimson Tide linebacking corps, which flirted with disaster last season. Every starter suffered a major setback in 2017, and many of the key reserves as well.

Some of that experience gained by those filling in should now pay off, or, more accurately, has to.

Among them are the two starters in the interior, junior Mack Wilson and sophomore Dylan Moses.

Both were considered to be 5-star talents as recruits. Both made two starts last season. Both could be poised for a monster season.

It starts with Wilson, who had a career-best 12 tackles during the National Championship Game, the most of any Crimson Tide player in a game last season. He made his first career start against Clemson in the College Football Playoff, and responded with six tackles and a pick-six.

Wilson’s taking Shaun Dion Hamilton’s place.

“He's the main signal caller for our defense,” junior safety Deionte Thompson said. “So he communicates it to the front and communicates it to the back end, and we've been doing a pretty good job of getting the calls from him this spring and communicating it across the board.”

Next to him will be Moses, who is now wearing the same No. 32 as his predecessor, Rashaan Evans. Not only does he play at the same spot in the base defense, but has the same role as a pass-rusher too.

“I was used to running things down,” Moses said. “I didn’t start running off the edge until I came to Alabama.”

That too was just like Evans, as both began their Crimson Tide careers at outside linebacker, in part because coaches thought it would be the best way to get them on the field. Evans was listed as 6 foot 3, 234 pounds last season, while Moses is 6-3, 233.

An Evans clone? He wouldn’t mind it. During the Crimson Tide’s final spring scrimmage, A-Day, he led all players in tackles with 10.

“I was very comfortable,” Moses said about the difference from a year ago. “I knew what I was supposed to do. I knew my plays. I knew where I was supposed to be. So it was more of me actually playing football rather than thinking about what I have to do.”

Moses made 11 tackles, including four for a loss, during his first start against Mercer, and then had 10 the subsequent week at Auburn before suffering a season-ending foot injury. The Iron Bowl was when Wilson returned from his own foot fracture against LSU, which also required surgery.

Remarkably, he only missed two games.

Saban would like to see a little more maturity out of this younger tandem as they develop some chemistry in the heart of the defense, but even they can see the potential.

“It’s like a one-two punch,” Moses said. “He plays off of me and I play off of him. I feel like we’re a deadly force and if we play on the same page, thinking the same thing about what we have to do we can really [do well] in the SEC.”

The key to the interior will be developing some proven depth, as Alabama doesn’t have much. Senior Keith Holcombe has decided to focus solely on baseball and sophomore VanDarius Cowan was kicked off the team.

Junior Joshua McMillon and redshirt freshman Markail Benton were second team, so the competition will be interesting to watch during fall camp, especially if coaches move a player to help provide some depth.

At outside linebacker, senior Christian Miller also missed 10 games after suffering bicep injury against the Seminoles and returned with Lewis for the regular-season finale at Auburn. However, he wasn’t full strength until the spring.

“Those guys are really quick off the edge,” junior left tackle Jonah Williams said.

Jennings, who plays the hybrid end/linebacker position that’s called “Jack” in Saban’s defensive scheme, is expected to be ready for fall camp.

Sophomore Christopher Allen is looking to step up into a bigger role, especially as a pass rusher, but the player to watch in the fall may be incoming true freshman Eyabi Anoma. One of the nation’s top prospects in the 2018 recruiting class, he notched 50 sacks during his last two seasons in high school.

Even without him, Alabama and new defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi are eager to show the pass rush that the Crimson Tide had to compensate for last year due to all the injuries.

“Tosh is really eager,” Lewis said in the spring. “He’ll dial up a lot of blitzes and stuff like that to make our guys feel more comfortable and get a lot of pressure and stuff like that. I feel like we’ve got a lot of length, a lot of guys who can do it — Raekwon [Davis], Christian — a lot of guys who have good pass rushing moves and have experience in practice. So, we’ll be straight.”

This is the seventh story in a series previewing every Alabama position group for the 2018 season:

Quarterbacks

Wide receivers and tight ends

Offensive line

Running backs

Special teams

Defensive line

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