Six months ago, the odds of this occurring didn’t appear to be very good.

When it came to the University of Alabama defense this season there a few things that most people thought were safe to count on, like the line having a lot of depth and the secondary needing some time to come together.

Landon Collins was supposed to be making the hardest hits, Trey DePriest was expected to a make a run at the Butkus Award, and last year’s winner of the linebacker of the year award, C.J. Mosley, was though to be almost irreplaceable.

Yet eight games into this season Alabama has another interior linebacker flying around making big plays. Junior Reggie Ragland isn’t quite like Mosley, who is off to a terrific start in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens, but he’s leading the Crimson Tide in tackles (56) and what the coaches call production points — the statistical formula they use to score how well defensive players perform in games.

“Reggie’s a big, physical, fast guy,” Coach Nick Saban said. “His improvement has been welcome defensively and I think it’s impacted the success that we’ve had on defense in the last couple of games.”

Specifically, he had a career-high 12 tackles at Arkansas, the reach-up interception against Texas A&M, and leveled Tennessee’s quarterback to send the ball flying for a fumble that cornerback Eddie Jackson recovered.

Ragland has made numerous other vicious hits, both on defense and special teams, and puts his hand on the ground to pass-rush in certain situations.

“He’s a natural athlete,” sophomore defensive end Jonathan Allen said. “He has good instincts for pass rushing.”

So far Ragland has been credited with 1.5 sacks, and 6.5 tackles for a loss. The only players with more hits behind the line of scrimmage are senior linebacker Xzavier Dickson (9) and Allen (7.5), he’s quickly closing the gap.

The Butkus Award semifinalist has been doing that in a lot of ways. While Collins and running back T.J. Yeldon were considered the pride of the 2012 signing class, Ragland was right behind them in the recruiting ratings along with Cyrus Jones, Chris Black and some guy out of Florida named Amari Cooper.

After two years as a interior linebacker reserve coaches considered trying him at strongside during the spring to pair sophomore Reuben Foster with DePriest. However, when Foster continued to have neck and shoulder issues due to the way he tackled, which had to be corrected, Ragland proved to be too valuable to move.

He responded by leading all players in tackles on A-Day, the final scrimmage of the spring, and secured his spot as Mosley’s replacement.

However, when DePriest was suspended for the season opener against West Virginia and wasn’t able to help Ragland during his first career start, the Mountaineers were able to take advantage. Alabama still won, 33-23, but there was a lot of miscommunication in the heart of the defense.

“That was very humbling,” said Ragland, who has since been constantly reminded by Kevin Steele to keep his focus – and if you ever see his position coach point to his own eyes that’s the message.

For the most part he has. As the mental errors have declined Ragland’s confidence has grown. Things have slowed down for him on the field and the pace some opposing offenses play at no longer causes him to hesitate and second-guess. He knows what to look for and anticipate, and doesn’t have his head on a swivel any more.

“He’s been a major impact for our defense because making run stops like he’s been doing (have) been tremendous for our defense,” Collins said. “Making third-down stops and getting off the field. Great.”

The interception may be the best indicator of Ragland’s improved comfort level on the field, a play that few linebackers in college football could make. Friends sent him so many pictures and videos of it that he had to start deleting them without even opening the files.

“I don’t know if he has the best hands, but I think he has the highest vertical,” senior safety Nick Perry told reporters with a laugh when Ragland was listening in from the side. “I’ll give him that one.”

Actually, Ragland’s vertical leap is “about 35” inches. That’s what Mosley scored at last year’s NFL Combine, which was the second best among the interior linebackers.

“I haven’t heard from him in a while,” Ragland said about the player he used to line up behind during practices. “He’s got his own thing. He’s got to keep his focus on playing in the National Football League.”

Someday he will was well, and make no mistake Ragland isn’t Mosley. But he gives Nick Saban one of those trademark things that his other championship teams featured, an intimidating presence in the middle like Rolando McClain in 2009 and Dont’a Hightower in 2011.