TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Nick Saban isn’t going to rule out a player until medical tests confirm an injury, but the Alabama coaching staff was almost certainly going over its options at interior linebacker on Saturday night.
With senior Joshua McMillon suffering an apparent knee injury during the first scrimmage of fall camp, Alabama is suddenly without a veteran or experienced player to pair with Dylan Moses in the middle of the defense.
All indications are that Alabama is expecting bad news when the results of McMillon’s MRI are known.
Reading between the lines from Saban’s press conference, he’s not optimistic either.
“Probably the guy that is most concerning that they have to do some research on is Josh McMillon today with a potential knee injury, so we’ll have to see what that is,” he said.
Regardless, the Crimson Tide has less than three weeks to get someone up to speed and ready for the season opener against Duke in Atlanta on Aug. 31. One tweak may be to play more nickel coverage, with an extra a defensive back in the game, but at minimum someone will still be needed in the base formation and short-yardage situations.
With an assist from our offseason position previews, here’s a look at Alabama’s five options:
1] Markail Benton: As a redshirt freshman he worked into the rotation at middle linebacker and also played significant minutes on special teams. He was credited with 14 tackles last season. With Moses held back for the scrimmage, Benton took his place with the first-team defense. At 6-2, 235 pounds, he’s definitely now looking and more playing time.
2] Jaylen Moody: A last-second addition to the recruiting Class of 2018 out of Conway High School, S.C., he was largely overlooked in recruiting but once in the fold worked his way up the depth chart to the second string. He played in 14 games and was a special-teams mainstay, plus made the key block on Jaylen Waddle’s 63-yard punt return for a touchdown against Louisiana. Moody (6-2, 227) had a pick-six during A-Day while filling in for Moses.
3] Ale Kaho: His status appeared to be up in the air at the start of spring practices, with Saban saying, “He’s got some issues that he’s dealing with,” regarding a short absence. Despite being a late addition last year he made 11 tackles on special teams, including a team-high seven on kickoff coverage, and had a fumble recovery. Kaho is listed as 6-1, 228 pounds, so he’s little smaller than some of the other contenders.
4] Shane Lee: As a 6-0, 246-pound early enrollee, Lee showed in the spring that he can be a solid interior presence. He’s also a solid tackler. The coaches may be tempted to throw him in and see how fast he can pick things up with Moses helping, but the guess here is that he’ll work closely behind Benton for now.
5] Move an outside linebacker: It’s possible, yet seems unlikely. Cameron Latu is finally getting comfortable at tight end and Eyabi Anoma was kicked out of school, so the numbers at outside linebacker aren’t great already. Alabama was already in need of someone to step up and serve as a backup to Terrell Lewis, with Ben Davis and Jarez Parks the most likely candidates.
Davis has spent some time learning the interior positions while true freshman Christian Harris is extremely versatile.
The Crimson Tide won’t be on the field Sunday. The players will go through a walkthrough Monday, followed by a practice later that evening.