Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What to Watch for in Spring Practice: LBs



Going into spring practice, we all knew how important it was going to be to try and replace Rolando McClain and the experience and talent he brought to the linebacker corp. On the first day of spring practice, we learned how important the coaching staff thought it was when defensive coordinator Kirby Smart took over as the linebackers coach instead of working with the defensive backs.

With that said, the team has only one returning starter in Donte Hightower, who was lost last season with a knee injury. He has been cleared to practice, however was only participating in non-contact drills last Friday. The good news is that it had nothing to do with his repaired knee and he was just nursing a hamstring pull. Given his talent, Hightower is primed to take over and lead the defense, the question is who to put around him.

The most likely candidate to line up with him at inside linebacker are Nico Johnson and Damion Square , who saw time last year especially after Hightower was lost.

As for the other linebacker positions, Courtney Upshaw, Jerrell Harris, have both played a limited part in the past for the Tide, so look for them to try and solidify their names in the starting slots.

The best battle to watch for this spring will be between Ed Stinson, Tana Patrick, and Jonathan Atchison. They are all redshirt freshman who have got the physical tools to take the job. The test will be to what extent they can fit the form of the linebacker Nick Saban likes for his defense. They all have the talent to make the cut, but need to show they can play a complete game with what limited experience they have.

All said, we know that Hightower will take over the middle and they will build the linebacker corp. around him. While Johnson, Upshaw, and Square have seen some time in games, they haven’t solidified their names in the starting sheet. Again, look for some of the younger guys to make a push for some significant playing time, especially this spring.

Next fall C.J. Mosley, Alfy Hill, and Adrian Hubbard arrive on campus, and don’t be surprised if these guys try to take some snaps from the older guys and make the lower end of the rotation.

With Kirby Smart now heading up the linebackers, he will definitely have the best out there starting and all of them top to bottom playing with all they have.


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