10. Outside linebacker
This isn’t so much about numbers as it’s about performance. Last year’s outside linebacker group, by the end of the year, was struggling due to injury.
There are sort of two issues in play here: One, how to align Anfernee Jennings and Terrell Lewis, both of whom were hurt for all or parts of 2018 and who play essentially the same position, and two, how to structure a depth chart that not only keeps the starters’ exposure to injury limited, but also gives Bama some punch off the bench when it needs to get to the quarterback.
For whatever reason, Bama’s QB pressure numbers never seemed to line up with their true, in-game impact. Christian Miller and Jennings both had solid seasons numbers-wise, but once Miller went down the whole thing collapsed. Based on their builds, one would think Lewis would get the Jack position and Jennings slide to strongside linebacker, but Alabama used its OLBs as defensive ends with increasing frequency in 2018, and Lewis is much better at coming out of a stance than is Jennings.
Assuming both players can stay healthy for an entire year, the next question is whether Chris Allen and Eyabi Anoma can take the next steps in their development. Allen was injured in 2018 and Anoma was a one-trick pony, able to come upfield on a speed rush just fine – but that was about it. With Cameron Latu running at tight end for the moment, the only other outside linebacker on the roster for now is Jarez Parks, who is more of a run defender than pass rusher at the moment.
Summary: Basically, what Alabama fans are looking for right now is production that matches potential. Last year’s group didn’t display it. Tosh Lupoi was the position coach for this group last year and despite deserved criticism of his coordination abilities, the consensus on his position coaching was that he did a good job. Sal Sunseri takes over this group in 2018, and while he is expected to bring a more aggressive style of play, his exit a few years back from the defensive coordinator role at Tennessee was a performance not all that much different – in fact, it was objectively worse – than was Lupoi’s for Alabama in 2018. Translation? Don’t make a lot of assumptions about either coach, or any of the players, until Alabama’s retooled defense has a chance to make its own statement this fall.
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN
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