Thursday, April 18, 2013
After injuries, plenty of opportunity at LB
By Alex Scarborough
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Coming into spring practice, the linebacking corps was thought to be a strength for Alabama. Three of four starters were back for another year on campus and a handful of reserves were poised to develop as most underclassmen do. In general, the outlook was positive.
Fast-forward to the final week of camp and the unit has changed dramatically: C.J. Mosley is stuck in a black no-contact jersey, Trey DePriest is out with a fractured foot and Xzavier Dickson is a question mark after missing Saturday's scrimmage with an injury resembling a bruised knee, according to Bama coach Nick Saban.
None of the injuries threaten to linger on into the fall, supposedly, but it does dramatically change what fans will see come A-Day on Saturday afternoon. Instead of seeing the usual inside linebackers, the annual scrimmage in Bryant-Denny Stadium will spotlight some names people haven't become accustomed to hearing, names such as Tana Patrick, Reggie Ragland, Ryan Anderson and Dillion Lee. The four combined for 25 tackles and zero starts last season.
Injuries to Alabama's starting linebackers this spring have given players such as Reggie Ragland an opportunity to show what they can do.
"It’s an opportunity for them to step up and showcase their talents," Mosley said. "Everybody supports each other. Trey’s been there at all the meetings. He’s out there on the field, helping Tana and Reggie out when they have a question. Like I said, we all support each other."
And as far as Anderson and Lee are concerned: "So far they’ve done well. They’re young players, so they still have a lot to prove. They’re going hard every play. Everybody’s going to mess up so they’ve got to learn the system and get better."
Mosley said he's "100 percent" confident in the team coming out of spring, noting some ups and downs, but cautioning that this time of the year is often like that.
"That’s what it’s all about -- kind of finding the momentum and the identity of the team," he explained. "So we’ve still got all of summer, summer training and summer workouts to go through. And we’ve still got training camp to go through. Still got a lot of molding to do when the newcomers still come in for summer."
But for now, the final week of spring represents opportunity for others.
Patrick is playing both inside and outside linebacker and he said he feels comfortable at either position. The rising senior has played in nearly 30 games in his career, but is just now at a point where he could vie for serious playing time. And a strong showing Saturday would go a long way toward that goal.
Patrick said he's gotten better in all phases of his game this year: pass coverage, run defense, leadership.
"I’ll be ready when they call my number," he said. "I’ve been embracing all of it. Whatever they ask me to do, I’m willing to do. I’m a team player."
Saban, for his part, is hoping the rotation at linebacker this spring will have a "carryover and cumulative effect" in the fall, especially for the two redshirt freshmen, Anderson and Lee.
"Both have had really good springs," Saban said. "They're both playing well. When Trey was not there, we really had five outside backers. We were a little short at inside backer without Trey. We wanted to take one of those guys and develop them as an inside backer, so what we decided to do was in regular Ryan Anderson is playing inside backer and in nickel Dillon Lee is playing nickel backer. So they're both getting a little bit of both, which will just give us more roles that they can play. They've both done some of that before so it's not totally new to them and they both respond pretty well to it."