TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Maybe Dillon Lee wasn’t ready for the moment so soon. As a still green-under-the-collar rookie, he played in Alabama’s season-opener against Michigan two years ago. The former four-star recruit wasted no time making his presence felt, making his first career tackle and then intercepting a pass in the final two minutes of a blowout win that eventually propelled the Crimson Tide to another national championship.
At the time it looked as if Lee was destined to make an impact as a freshman, mixing in some sneaky athleticism into a group of linebackers that already featured veterans C.J. Mosley and Nico Johnson. But time was playing tricks on us. Lee didn't make another tackle all season. He played in the first four games and showed up on the participation chart only four more times over the final 10 games.
To make matters worse, his immaturity showed when he and fellow freshman Ryan Anderson were sent home before the BCS National Championship game for missing curfew. Both players would have to work their way out of the doghouse.
Lee, by all accounts, did just that this past season, playing in all 13 games while earning the respect of his teammates and coaches. He was named special teams player of the week by the coaching staff following a victory over Ole Miss. Shortly after, Mosley praised him for being a “diverse player” who can play inside linebacker as well as on the edge. He called Lee “physical” and able to “hold the point of attack.”
Defensive end Ed Stinson called the 6-foot-4, 242-pound Lee “crazy.”
“In a good way,” he explained. “He works hard. He doesn’t ever hold back. He goes hard every time he gets in.”
Fellow linebacker Denzel Devall, who came in with Lee and started all 13 games at outside linebacker as a sophomore last season, echoed his former teammate's sentiments, noting Lee’s talent as well as his attitude.
“Dillon is very versatile,” Devall said. “Great guy. Very physical. Just an athlete. He's smart, and I believe he'll come in and do a great job for us.”
Though it’s still early in the spring, it looks as if Lee will play much more as a junior. While there’s no depth chart -- don’t even ask coach Nick Saban about one -- there is a big vacancy at linebacker where starting jobs at inside and outside linebacker are up for grabs. Lee figures to be best suited to play strong-side linebacker (Sam), where he was No. 2 on last season's depth chart behind Adrian Hubbard, who has since moved on to the NFL.
Lee, who has shown he can handle both positions on the field as well as his responsibilities away from it, could very well end up coming fill circle and start Alabama’s season-opener against West Virginia on Aug. 30 in Atlanta.
“I think Dillon Lee will be a really good player for us,” Saban said. “I think he has a good understanding of what we want him to do. He runs well. He's got good size and plays good block protection, especially at the line of scrimmage.
“We feel like he can be a very good player and competing for a starting job right now. We're confident that if he wins that job, he'll be able to do an outstanding job for us.”