Alabama's defense already has its alpha dog for 2019 season

Linebacker Dylan Moses is also the player the Crimson Tide can least afford to lose

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It took only one day after his first media session representing the Alabama defense this spring for the term to be vocalized regarding Dylan Moses.

It wasn’t by one of his current teammates, either.

“He’s the alpha dog now,” former Crimson Tide linebacker Mack Wilson said after his Pro Day workout.

If you’ve been following the Alabama football program for a while, you know that’s more than a compliment to the Crimson Tide.

In his mind, Wilson was sort of passing the torch among the interior linebackers even though Moses arguably had the better season of the two last year. As a sophomore, Moses led the Crimson Tide in tackles with 86, including 10 for a loss and 3.5 sacks, and was a finalist for the Butkus Award for the nation’s outstanding linebacker.

Wilson’s declaration wasn’t meant to disrespect anyone else still on the roster, especially senior outside linebacker Anfernee Jennings, who will also be a defensive leader and possible team co-captain. However, with Alabama always having an inside linebacker be in charge of relaying play calls and making pre-snap adjustments it’s a natural role for someone in the interior.

Consequently, Moses is already considered the quarterback of the defense.

“I definitely feel like a leader,” said Moses, who referred to himself as a “puppy” as a freshman. “There are a lot guys who watch me, look up to me, and they’re trying to see what I’m doing like in adversity situations when those come into play.

“I take on the leadership role, the bull by the horns. I just do what I have to do. There’s no pressure.”

The increased responsibility is something Moses and Nick Saban have been talking about ever since the Louisiana product was recruited out of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. In terms of potential, he was considered one of six consensus 5-star prospects in the signing Class of 2017, joining running back Najee Harris, offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood, wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, defensive lineman LaBryan Ray and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

Remember that group, as each one of those players could be up for some major awards this season. Jeudy already won the 2018 Biletnikoff Award, and Tagovailoa took home the Maxwell and Walter Camp awards en route to being named the consensus first-team All-American at quarterback.

Moses deserves to be in that mix. Go back to the College Football Playoff and when asked who will be the big breakout star for the defense and Quinnen Williams immediately said: “Dylan Moses especially.”

Of course, Moses was a starter last season. He usually lined up as the weakside linebacker, sort of following in Rashaan Evans’ footsteps. Wilson was the man in the middle and stayed on the field more when the defense added extra defensive backs, as he had a knack for picking off passes over the middle.

In terms of scheme the positions are almost identical. In terms of pass coverage, when Alabama isn’t in a zone it means he’s responsible for picking up the running back on pass routes out of the backfield instead of the tight end or player out of the slot.

“There’s less to think about,” Moses said. “All I have to do is make the calls and then run wherever I’ve got to run. Like I said, I’m really excited. I’m happy. I’m overjoyed to be playing the position again.”

For years Alabama has seen one player go from one spot to the other, and on occasion the Crimson Tide has rotated players based on if it was a running or passing situation. That could still happen in 2019, and Moses might still significant time at weakside linebacker based on who wins the other starting job.

But for now he’s the guy at the heart of the defense — physically, mentally and spiritually.

Alabama does have some questions on that side of the ball, including who will lineup at safety next to Xavier McKinney, and some depth issues that need to be worked out. Yet Moses may be the starter Saban has to worry about least.

“I don’t think he has anything to prove,” the coach said. “Very instinctive guy.”

Actually, Saban might have the opposite problem. Considering the lack of proven players at interior linebacker Moses is the one Alabama could least afford to lose to an injury. In that respect he may be on par with Tagovailoa, the Heisman Trophy runner-up.

Between Josh McMillon, Markail Benton (36), Ale Kajo (10), Jaylen Moody (42) and early enrollee Shane Lee, someone is going to start alongside Moses. The other four will make up the second- and third-teams.

McMillon is getting the first look this spring. The senior has played in 18 games, and been credited with 19 career tackles. If something happened to Moses, he’d probably be the one to relay the calls as the unit’s most veteran player.

It wouldn’t necessary make him the alpha dog, though. That status is something that develops out of time and respect. It has to be earned.

Moses has done that. He even talks and sounds the part.

“I feel like last year we’d start the game off first half, do good, the offense would put up a lot of points, and in the second half we’d be more relaxed,” Moses said. “I just feel like this year we can’t look at the scoreboard. We’ve got to finish the game and just dominate, just keep putting our foot on the opposing team’s throat and just finish.

“That goes into a game situation and throughout the entire season because guys get tired toward the end of the season. I just feel like we need to finish.”

Big bark. Big bite. Alabama’s latest alpha dog is already on the attack.

“I’m fully confident in him, he’s going to get the job done,” Wilson said. “He knows what it takes to win.”

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