TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama’s biggest fear for the 2019 season has come true.
Junior linebacker Dylan Moses suffered a major knee injury during Tuesday's practice. Sources indicate that he’s expected to miss the season.
"Dylan was injured yesterday in practice," Nick Saban said while confirming the injury during the first SEC coaches' media teleconference of the season on Wednesday morning. "He had a knee injury and it will require surgery and he'll be out an indefinite period of time.
"Certainly this is a character check for our team and we're going to do everything we can to support Dylan and the people who have the opportunity to fill in for Dylan."
True freshman Shane Lee,, who was an early enrollee in the spring, will start at middle linebacker.
Alabama is set to open the 2019 season against Duke at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Saturday (2:30 p.m., ABC).
Considering the lack of proven players at interior linebacker Moses was the one the Alabama defense could least afford to lose to an injury. In that respect he may have been on par with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, the Heisman Trophy runner-up.
As a sophomore, Moses led the Crimson Tide in tackles with 86, including 10 for a loss and 3.5 sacks, and was a finalist for the Butkus Award for the nation’s outstanding linebacker in 2018.
Moses was considered the quarterback of the defense, relaying all the play calls from the sideline and making pre-snap adjustments. With Mack Wilson leaving early for the NFL he was the lone experienced presence in the interior of the Crimson Tide defensive front seven.
Senior Joshua McMillon, who won the weakside linebacker job in the spring, also suffered a knee injury during fall camp.
"When Josh went down, that was hard, because that was somebody I could rely on, because he was an older guy and I knew he knew what he was supposed to do, and I knew what I was supposed to do," Moses said on Monday. " So when he went down, it was like, 'Dang, everything really is on me now.' That was the mindset I went to. But then afterwards, I was like, 'You know, I got this. I can do it.' This is what I've been wanting and God's pretty much given me everything I could ask for."
He’s being replaced by true freshman Christian Harris. Consequently, with D.J. Dale winning the starting job at nose tackle all three interior players in the defensive front seven are college rookies.
Saban said Harris had an "outstanding" fall camp, a sentiment that has been echoed by his players.
"He’s doing really good," Moses said about Harris. "He’s shocked me because he just got here like a couple months ago. I told him he has an opportunity to do something great. There’s just some slight things he needs to work on, as far as technique-wise, but other than that, he’ll be fine."
Alabama's depth is getting extremely thin at both interior linebacker positions, with sophomores Markail Benton, Ale Kajo and Jaylen Moody rounding out the depth chart..
"They know they're one play away having to be in the game" Saban said. "Fortunately for the guys we have as backup linebackers they have been good students of the game. They really try and prepare themselves the right way.
"Sometimes you get guys if they're not playing they have a hard time focusing because it's the first time they haven't been the guy that's going to go out there and play, so it makes it a little more difficult for them. Fortunately, Shane Lee and Christian Harris, whether they were starters or backups, either one, they're both bright guys and they've been very engaged in what they have to do to be ready to go play. I don't think there's any substitute for experience, now they're going to get the opportunity to get some of that."
Also, on the teleconference, Saban declined to comment about reports four players have been suspended for the first half on Saturday.