By Jess Nicholas
March 9, 2019
Alabama’s first spring practice is in the books. Given the way the 2018 season ended, there will probably be greater fan scrutiny on 2019 spring practices than in recent years.
Here’s our look at 10 key positions headed into spring, which could see more shuffling of personnel than expected given the turnover in position assistant jobs and the new perspective first-year assistants might bring to their evaluations.
1. Both inside linebacker spots
We’re going to bracket these two positions because there’s about an equal chance last year’s weakside linebacker, Dylan Moses, is going to end up in the middle. As much heartburn as Bama fans had last year watching Moses struggle to read offensive checks and the departed Mack Wilson hit his marks, day one of the 2019 spring session got off on the wrong foot when talented sophomore Brandon Ale Kaho was announced as absent from the team – with no timeline for return.
Kaho had become a key part of Alabama’s kick coverage units last year after displaying good speed and hitting ability, but he clearly needed to add weight heading into 2019, especially if he was going to wind up being a factor at middle linebacker. Nick Saban, though, told reporters that Kaho basically wasn’t part of the program right now and his return was not guaranteed.
As such, Dylan Moses opened up at weakside Friday next to senior Josh McMillon. McMillon, a popular reserve who knows the defense well, has good ability in run defense but lacks the explosive speed and quickness Wilson had. It’s unclear what a defense with McMillon in the middle would look like. He isn’t the only option, as Jalen Moody and Markail Benton are also competing there this spring, as is true freshman Shane Lee. Moody played in the same number of games as Kaho last year, mostly on special teams, but he has the body for middle linebacker. Benton is likely a weakside player only. Lee was probably the most overlooked of all Bama’s signees in February, an impressive physical specimen who ideally would be a two-down linebacker at this point. But the Crimson Tide doesn’t have that luxury; whoever wins this job will need to display prowess on all downs.
A long shot to win the job would be outside linebacker Chris Allen, coming off knee surgery. Alabama has a surplus of outside linebackers, and Allen has worked inside before. Ben Davis, who has shifted between inside and outside linebacker for two seasons now, will miss part of the spring with injury and probably isn’t part of this battle.
Summary: Bama hasn’t been this limited at inside linebacker since Nick Saban’s first season in 2007. Moses absolutely must take the next step mentally. If McMillon is going to be the guy in the middle, he’ll need to play faster. Otherwise look for Bama to plug in a young player and take its lumps.
READ MORE: Tight Ends