TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The answers, they hope, will come, both short- and long-term.
After seeing yet another starter suffer a season-ending injury, along with a key reserve out for at least a month, the remaining University of Alabama linebackers suddenly have a lot questions about what comes next.
“I am not too sure,” senior Rashaan Evans said Monday afternoon. “I think with us everything is basically the same. Basically, we have had a lot of things that have happened as far as our depth on defense.”
That includes senior Shaun Dion Hamilton and sophomore Mack Wilson joining junior Christian Miller and sophomore Terrell Lewis on the sideline.
Consequently, Alabama will have to piece together a new depth chart for the linebacker corps on the fly as work has already begun for Saturday’s game at Mississippi State (7 p.m. ET, ESPN) — with eye toward the regular season finale at Auburn two weeks later.
The Crimson Tide simply don’t have any other choice.
“It’s unfortunate, but it’s next man up here,” sophomore Anfernee Jennings said.
Hamilton’s loss especially stings as he’s been the rock in the middle of the unit, the leader who relayed the play-calls and was primarily responsible for making pre-snap adjustments. Nick Saban called him one of the smartest players he’s had in the program, and the veteran’s absence during last season’s National Championship Game was apparent
“All the team loves him as a person on and off the field,” guard Ross Pierschbacher said. “It’s one thing to miss a player like that on the field, but just to (not) have a guy like that in the locker room. I know he’ll still be around cheering us on, but it just sucks for a guy like that, to see him work so hard to come back from an ACL injury, and then for him to go out like that.”
Prayers out for Deshaun Watson…The worst feeling is getting hurt when you playing your best ball.
— Shaun Dion Hamilton (@shaundion11) November 2, 2017
Just to get its numbers back up in the interior coaches moved two players from outside linebacker on Monday, freshman VanDarius Cowan and sophomore Joshua McMillon. Redshirt freshman Ben Davis was again back with the outside linebackers, but didn’t have on a scout-team jersey.
Here’s how everyone lined up in the two-deep:
- Mike: Keith Holcombe, Dylan Moses
- Will: Evans, Cowan
- Jack: Jennings, Christopher Allen
- Sam: Jamey Mosley, Mekhi Brown
McMillon and redshirt candidate Markail Benton were the third string in the interior.
It’s a far cry from how Alabama began the season.
It had 14 scholarship linebackers on the roster, making it arguably the team’s deepest position.
Alabama’s linebackers as recruits
|Shaun Dion Hamilton||2014||4||204|
For those not familiar with Saban’s defensive scheme, the interior spots are mostly interchangeable, while the Jack is a hybrid defensive end/linebacker who can put his hand down on the line or drop back into coverage.
When Alabama goes into its nickel package, the strong-side linebacker is usually replaced by a defensive back called “star,” and in the dime the middle linebacker is swapped for the “money” back.
This was the initial depth chart for this season:
• Mike: Hamilton, Wilson
Hamilton is out for the season with a fractured kneecap while Wilson is expected to be out 4-6 weeks after having surgery for a foot injury suffered against LSU.
One thing I know for sure I'm coming back ready to reck some.. Big bruh @EJackson_4 told me "never lose faith, you gone come back 100x better" Once again thanks to the best fans in the country and thanks to my peers for reaching out to me. I appreciate it all! #Double® #3oFor3o™ pic.twitter.com/2T29XH2gVn
— Maserati Mack (@iam__mw3o) November 5, 2017
• Will: Evans, Holcombe, Moses
Evans missed two games with a painful groin injury and is only now beginning to look like the player who hoped to be in the running for the Butkus Award as the nation’s best linebacker.
• Jack: Jennings, Mosley, Allen
Jennings suffered an ankle injury against Florida State resulting in surgery. He missed two games. Mosley suffered an undisclosed injury earlier in the season and missed the Ole Miss game.
• Sam: Miller, Lewis
Both suffered major injuries against Florida State — Miller (biceps) and Lewis (elbow). Last week Saban said both are doing well in their rehab and neither is expected to lose a year of eligibility.
Nick Saban said Terrell Lewis and Christian Miller are doing "extremely well."
— Marq Burnett (@Marq_Burnett) November 3, 2017
Add it up and Alabama linebackers have already lost 21 games to injuries, with three possibly done for the season and four others in the two-deep having missed games.
With Hamilton, Wilson, Evans (ankle), Jennings (foot), Mosley (knee) and Brown (shoulder) all banged up against LSU, along with junior defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick (hamstring), Alabama compensated by playing more nickel defense against the Tigers.
It’ll likely try and do so against Mississippi State as well, but the primary aim will remain containing quarterback Nick Fitzgerald. He’s third in the SEC in total offense by averaging 251.1 yards per game, and sixth in rushing (89.0), and is ahead of Alabama’s Jalen Hurts in both statistical categories.
Saban compares facing him to an offense that’s always in wildcat formation.
“Nick Fitzgerald is one of those actual dual-threat quarterbacks,” Evans said. “He has shown a lot of times he can get outside the pocket and be able to extend plays.”
Holcombe had started in Evans’ spot when he was sidelined, and has played the interior linebacker spot in the dime package with Evans moving up to be a pass-rusher. Wilson was being groomed for a similar role as Evans next season, while Moses was primarily used as a pass-rusher against LSU.
“He will have to step up,” Saban said.
He’s not the only one.
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