For the second year in a row, Alabama’s depth at outside linebacker has taken a massive hit. This time, it happened before fall camp even started.
On Tuesday, coach Nick Saban issued a statement regarding one of the team’s biggest defensive stars. Terrell Lewis, a junior linebacker out of Washington, tore his ACL while training last week.
It’s a significant blow to Alabama’s defense. After losing its top six defensive backs from last season, a healthy front seven was needed to give those replacements in the secondary a chance to gain experience.
It now looks as though that health will be tested early.
So, how will the Tide replace the injured Lewis (after Saban dismissed VanDarius Cowan earlier)? Well, the good news is that there will be options. But first, we need to look at the role Lewis played in Alabama’s defense.
What Lewis leaves behind
It might be difficult for fans to understand the impact Lewis had in his limited time last season. Due to an elbow injury suffered against Florida State in Week 1, the 6-5, 256-pound edge rusher missed almost all of the regular season.
Lewis returned against Auburn, and from there, he started to make his presence known.
His biggest play came against Georgia in overtime of the National Championship Game. On 3rd-and-6, Lewis sacked Jake Fromm — forcing Georgia to kick a field goal.
Terrell Lewis showed his potential with seven tackles and a huge overtime sack in the CFP title game. Now it looks like the Alabama LB will miss the 2018 season: https://t.co/9083SCN21C pic.twitter.com/OtqL8RsttF
— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) July 10, 2018
The rest is history after Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa threw a walk-off, 41-yard touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith on the following possession.
That third-down sack wasn’t the only time Lewis applied pressure in that game. In fact, he consistently caused issues for Georgia’s offense. Here’s another twist he ran earlier in the game that created pressure on Fromm:
Twist up top, Lewis penetrating & catches Cleveland high. Nice pressure. pic.twitter.com/1nAiusi3Vz
— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) January 9, 2018
He only got to play in five games, but Lewis gave plenty of hope for the future. There were several analysts, myself included, who pegged him as the team’s biggest breakout candidate.
That praise was only reinforced after his strong performance against Jonah Williams — one of the best offensive tackles in the country — in the A-Day game in April. Lewis got the better of Williams multiple times while displaying a combination of burst, balance and power.
How can Alabama replace an impact player like Lewis? Well, here are some of the available options.
1. The established starters
The most obvious options available are the other two members of Alabama’s dominate trio of edge rushers — Christian Miller and Anfernee Jennings.
Lewis was actually listed as a co-starter at strong-side linebacker along with Miller. Jennings, who led Alabama in QB pressures last season, was listed as the starter at Jack linebacker opposite those two.
Despite missing three full games, including the NC Game, Anfernee Jennings was Alabama’s most productive pass-rusher this season pic.twitter.com/SGmXAckaFi
— CFB Film Room (@CFBFilmRoom) January 12, 2018
It’s possible that both players will be asked to handle a larger workload with Lewis no longer in the fold.
2. The other veterans
Alabama also has a few more guys who were able to gain valuable experience last season. At one point, all three of Alabama’s top edge rushers were dealing with injuries. Versatile linebacker Rashaan Evans, who ended the season with the second-most sacks on the team (6), was banged up for a period as well.
That opened the door for former walk-on Jamey Mosley and true freshman Christopher Allen. Both took full advantage.
Mosley is an especially gritty player who has become key depth for the Crimson Tide.
Jamey Mosley (16) had a good game as well. Excellent depth piece. Great explosion off the snap, shocks the RT Scott Lashley (76), sheds the block and makes the tackle.
— Clint Lamb (@Rivals_Clint) April 23, 2018
Don’t be surprised to see Mosley and Allen as the first two up behind Miller and Jennings once camp opens.
3. The versatile inside linebackers
Mack Wilson and Dylan Moses are expected to be the two starters at inside linebacker next season. That isn’t good news for opposing offenses.
To make matters worse, both players could be used as additional pass rushers with Lewis out indefinitely. Wilson does have some experience at outside linebacker, but it’s Moses who has shown the ability to play both inside and outside effectively.
As a true freshman, the 6-3, 232-pound Moses racked up 5.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks while seeing snaps on the edge due to injuries.
— InsideBamaRecruiting (@RTRnews) May 27, 2018
It wasn’t until after the ACL injury to Shaun Dion Hamilton that Moses made the move inside on a more permanent basis.
In order to alleviate some of the pain from loss of Lewis, new defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi might decide to use Moses in a similar way to how Rashaan Evans was used during his career. Seeing snaps at inside linebacker on early downs while sometimes kicking outside in passing situations.
4. The young guns
Alabama wasn’t prepared to handle the losses of Lewis, Miller and Jennings to start last season. Granted, that sort of hit at any one position would be detrimental to any other roster, but the Tide’s depth was still tested.
This year, they’re a lot more prepared.
Alabama put an emphasis on adding additional edge rushers in the 2018 class. They already had 4-star Jarez Parks, a top recruit who grayshirted in 2017, in the mix, but more depth was needed.
A trio of top pass rushers were signed as a result.
Leading the way is 5-star prospect Eyabi Anoma. According to the 247Sports composite rankings, the 6-5, 235-pound Anoma was the top weakside defensive end in the 2018 class. He was also rated as the No. 4 overall player. With Lewis out for the foreseeable future, Anoma could carve out an important role in Year 1.
It doesn’t matter how much depth Alabama has built at outside linebacker. It’s still going to be difficult to replace Lewis’ expected production in 2018.
The Crimson Tide have options, but they’re going to need some of the young guys to step up if they want to continue the level of rotation that we saw from them in 2017.