By Shane from Centerpoint
When analyzing Alabamaâ€™s chances for defensive success in the upcoming 2008 season, linebacker is probably the one position with the biggest question mark. In fact, a large contingent of those who comment on sports for a living and donâ€™t follow the Crimson Tide closely might not realize the sheer number of talented athletes available to contribute.
With the loss of Ezekial Knight, Jimmy Johns, and Prince Hall (3 game suspension), most analysts can name only Rolando McClain as a starter. The truth is that several players are primed and ready to break out this year.
Cory Reamer (6â€™ 4â€- 225), a rising Jr., will probably play next to McClain on the inside. A former safety, Reamer has beefed-up and appears ready to perform at the consistent level that SEC play requires. He lead all linebackers in the Spring game in tackles and displayed the same ball-hawking ability that he used to help his former high school team win state championships. Reamer is tough, having survived multiple knee surgeries. His reaction time and intelligence are his best assets. He is the sleeper of this yearâ€™s linebacker corps.
Brandon Fanney (6 â€™4â€ â€“ 240), another rising Jr., has been getting ample playing time with the first unit. His athleticism and speed, along with his steady development over the past two years, will prove to be an SEC quality player.
Erik Anders (6â€™2â€- 230), also a rising Jr., is a player who has the size and speed to play the Jack linebacker position or go inside to spell McClain or Reamer. He will probably see some playing time, at least until Prince Hall becomes available (after Hallâ€™s three-game suspension is over).
Alex Watkins (6â€™3â€- 220 red-shirt Fr.) and Chavis Williams (6â€™4â€- 220 So.) have been impressive at times on the outside. Both are extremely talented â€“ having the speed to rush the quarterback, as well as cover receivers downfield. These two will be given a chance to show that they are ready to compete.
There are two more players currently on the roster who have the ability to contribute from a depth standpoint. Jennings Hester (6â€™2â€ â€“ 225 r.s.Fr.) from Atlanta has earned the chance to jump into the rotation, and Charlie Higginbotham (6â€™1â€ â€“ 210 So.) – although a bit under-sized – is good enough to spell players and contribute on special teams.
Finally, and most importantly, three incoming freshmen are expected to push everybody – except McClain – for a starting spot. Jerrell Harris (6â€™2â€ â€“ 220) was recruited by every â€œbig timeâ€ school in the country for a good reason. He is a gifted outside-linebacker and brings every tool in the shed to the field. Harris will probably start at strong-side linebacker when the season opens against Clemson in Atlanta. Donâ€™ta Hightower (6â€™3â€ 250) played tailback in high school. He has the body of a seasoned SEC linebacker and has a good shot at being the #1 back-up to McClain and Reamer. Courtney Upshaw (6â€™ 2â€ â€“ 220) is cut from the same mold as Harris but will start his career inside at Alabama. He is a hard hitter and possesses strong field awareness for a young player.
We can summarize by saying that Alabama has plenty of talent at the line-backing position. However, most of the players are unproven with little actual playing time. I think that by the time Alabama hits mid-season form, the defense will be a much improved stop-unit. By seasonâ€™s end, the linebackers could be the Crimson Tideâ€™s best defensive assets.