Alabama's talented young linebackers off to eye-opening start
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. _ It was one of the those answers in which the facial expression may have communicated more than what was being said, and Austin Shepherd’s words were highly complimentary.
When asked about the University of Alabama’s true freshmen at outside linebacker the senior right tackle said Thursday evening: “Rashaan Evans is really fast. He’s got really good speed off the edge. Same with Christian Miller. He’s one of those slim guys who has a ton of speed. Those two guys have really stuck out a lot to me.”
Meanwhile, the look on his wide-eyed face was something like: “You have no idea.”
Although the Crimson Tide is just a week into training camp it’s already clear that one position group in which freshmen will have a chance to make an early impact is linebacker – and not just at one spot.
Part of that is due to necessity because Alabama doesn’t have a lot of depth outside of the proven veterans, most of whom will start. Ideally the coaches want to have a rotation of four interior and outside linebackers, and coming into camp — without factoring in any injuries — only three were set at each.
Senior Trey DePriest, junior Reggie Ragland and sophomore Reuben Foster are the primary guys in the middle, while senior Xzavier Dickson and juniors Denzel Devall and Dillon Lee have been sharing snaps on the exterior.
“We’ve got a lot of youth there,” defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said. “We’re going to have to play some freshmen.”
Yet these aren’t just any freshmen. As recruits, 247Sports rated Evans both a five-star talent and the best outside linebacker in the nation, slightly ahead of Miller (who was third) in its evaluations.
They’re also different from their other teammates and could potentially give coaches some other options in how they want to attack different kinds of opposing offense.
Shepherd compares the change-of-pace pass-rushing like trying to hit a fastball in baseball after seeing nothing but sliders.
“It’s different because I’m used to the power guys like Xzavier Dickson, who are trying to bull rush, and now I’m going to go block Rashaan Evans, who weighs 50 pounds less, as he tries to run around the edge on me,” Shepherd said.
Granted, Shepherd has almost 100 pounds on Evans, who is listed on the Alabama roster as being 6 foot 3, 225 pounds, so he has a lot of leverage once he grabs on but “the problem is getting them.”
“Nothing but explosive,” Ragland said about Evans and Miller. “Once they catch on to the playbook they are going to be dangerous on the outside coming off the pass rush.”
Meanwhile, the young interior linebackers may be just as promising, especially if you include the second-year Foster.
“Oh, Reuben’s a stud,” Ragland said about Foster. “Oh yeah, that’s my dawg. We’re roommates now. That’s like my little brother. We kid, we argue with each other and we’re going to fuss. But at the end of the day it’s nothing but love with us.”
Early enrollee Shaun Dion Hamilton appears to be off to a great start as well and has been taking more top-end reps with DePriest dealing with a knee issue that will likely keep him out of Saturday’s scrimmage, the first of training camp.
But Ragland also predicts good things for another newcomer, true freshman Keith Holcombe.
“In a couple of years, that’s who everybody needs to watch out for,” Ragland said. “He’s going to be a stud for us.”