If Nick Saban could design the perfect JACK linebacker for his defense, it might be Courtney Upshaw, knowing how he developed and posted crooked numbers on the stat sheet throughout his career. Or it just might be 2013 signee Jonathan Allen.
Upshaw entered Alabama as a 6-2, 220-pound outside linebacker, but he grew into a full-fledged monster, developing his body and gaining a healthy 45 pounds while keeping his speed and athleticism to become one of the country’s most feared pass rushers. Upshaw racked up 16.5 sacks and 32.5 tackles for loss in his final two years in Nick Saban’s system.
Saban and Kirby Smart are notorious for taking bigger defensive players and making jumbo athletes out of them, diversifying their game and developing their ability to play multiple positions. For instance, Saban signed a 308-pound Quinton Dial as a defensive tackle and moved him to defensive end, where he helped lead Bama to a national championship. He’s going to do the same thing with tackle signee Dee Liner. Some may have even moved former middle linebacker Dont’a Hightower to defensive end at 6-3, 270 pounds, too, but that’s part of Saban’s process of building a physically bigger and dominant defense.
The 3-4 defense is held down by two inside linebackers and flanked by two outside linebackers. It’s built around a strong nose tackle who can control the line of scrimmage, but the X-factor in the scheme is a linebacker who excels as a pass rusher. We saw it with Upshaw, and we saw it with Georgia’s Jarvis Jones.
But we didn’t see it with Bama’s 2012 defense, and it was the only missing piece, if you will, to a truly dominant defense.
Enter Jonathan Allen.
The Virginia native and consensus five-star product Allen is physically ready to compete in the SEC as a freshman. He’s already 6-3, 250 pounds, but in his massive 18-year-old body, he possesses elite speed and pass rushing ability. He’s listed with several recruiting agencies as a defensive end, which is perfect for Saban’s JACK linebacker.
While the position is currently very deep with Adrian Hubbard, Ryan Anderson and Xzavier Dickson on the depth chart, none of them possess the rare combination of raw athleticism in such a massive frame. Don’t expect Allen to get buried on the depth chart even as a freshman.
As a defensive end in his senior year, Allen recorded 119 tackles, eight sacks, seven pass deflections, six fumble recoveries and five blocked kicks in route to becoming Virginia’s Gatorade Player of the Year.
Allen and Alabama are perfect matches.
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