Crimson Tide Position Preview: Linebackers
Each week leading up to Alabama's A-Day game, I will highlight two position groups and preview both the presumed starters and key depth pieces, as well as players that could challenge for a starting role this season. Let's look today at a group that brings back one of the nation's best at the position, but also looks to replace some major contributors from last season: linebackers.
Henry To'oTo'o transferred to Alabama prior to last season and instantly made a huge impact, taking over as a starter in week one against Miami. Coming from Tennessee where he put together two very solid seasons, To'oTo'o continued to flourish in the Tide defense, racking up 113 tackles, 8.5 TFLs and 4.0 sacks in his first season as starter. Though getting comfortable in a new system had its adjustment period, by the end of the season, the former five-star from Sacramento was one of the nation's top inside linebackers.
Stepping into his second year in Crimson, To'oTo'o will continue to shed his Tennessee ties and take on a much larger leadership role within the defense.
Deontae Lawson/Jaylen Moody
In the other inside linebacker spot opposite To'oTo'o, there are two players that could likely take over as the starter, but one seems to be the favorite to solidify himself. Both Deontae Lawson and Jaylen Moody will likely see reps alongside To'oTo'o, but Lawson brings elite athleticism to the table that Moody lacks. While the redshirt senior from Conway, SC has been with the program since 2018, Lawson is a bit more versatile and will likely take over as the starter before the season kicks off.
Though both players could certainly fill the role and both could do it very well, what Lawson can bring to the table can't be overlooked. Moody, despite entering his fifth season with the team, will likely remain a rotational player, seeing time on both special teams and as a backup.
Demouy Kennedy, a versatile, athletic junior from Theodore, AL has been a mainstay of the Tide's special teams units since joining the program in 2020, and even made the move over to running back late last season due to injuries from Roydell Williams and Jase McClellan. Kennedy, in two years in Tuscaloosa, has appeared in 19 games and has racked up seven tackles as well as seven carries for 16 yards.
With another offseason under his belt, Kennedy could certainly could be pushing for reps this season at interior linebacker. The former four-star may not take over the starting role, but could see a lot of playing time.
Kendrick Blackshire joined the team in 2021 as a four-star out of Duncanville, TX. Blackshire, though used solely on special teams, was able to impress in his freshman season. Though the young linebacker picked up just three tackles in his first year, Blackshire showed off his impressive speed and athleticism more than enough to warrant him taking on a larger role in his second season.
Like Kennedy, Blackshire is unlikely to take on a starting role, but should find his spot in the rotation and could push for more reps as the season progresses.
Will Anderson, Jr.
What else needs to be said about the "Terminator" himself? Will Anderson, Jr. is the best defensive player in all of college football and will continue to show that once again this season. Entering his third, and likely final, year in the program, Anderson has a chance to solidify himself as arguably the best edge rusher to ever come through Tuscaloosa. The Hampton, GA native currently sits at fourth on the Tide's all-time sack leaderboard with a chance to place himself among the likes of Derrick Thomas.
In two seasons, Anderson has compiled a whopping 154 tackles, 45 TFLs and 24.5 sacks. Now, with a cast of veterans surrounding him that will only be better than year's prior, Anderson and the Tide defense should be a scary sight for any team lined up on offense.
Dallas Turner put together the only freshman season that could rival that of the previously mentioned Anderson simply because he actually topped it. Unlike Anderson who began the 2020 season as a starter, Turner didn't take over as the full-time starter until week 10 in 2021 and still managed to top Anderson's numbers. In just seven starts to close the season, Turner compiled over half of his 30 tackles, nine of his ten tackles for loss and all of his 8.5 sacks.
While Anderson still holds the crown as college football's best defender, Turner could make his claim for the title in his second year.
While Turner and Anderson will likely start most games, Braswell could easily find himself taking over as starter for a few of them throughout the season, as well being the first option for rotation at the position. Braswell joined Alabama in 2020 as a five-star prospect, but did not see any playing time. In 2021, Braswell took on an expanded role, making appearances in 14 games and racking up 13 tackles, one of which for a loss, and a blocked punt.
Entering his junior season, Braswell should take on an even larger role and be heavily featured in the rotation with Anderson and Turner. The Baltimore native's blend of speed and strength make him a uniquely exciting player that should fit right in alongside the others.
Quandarrius Robinson, a redshirt sophomore out of Birmingham, AL, joined the Tide in 2020 but was given a redshirt for his first season. The following year, prior to the season starting, Robinson was suspended from the team for a DUI arrest, but came back in week three to record his first career minutes against Southern Miss. Robinson was a four-star prospect out of high school and could find himself pushing into the rotation this season.
Jeremiah Alexander is an extremely exciting five-star prospect that recently joined the team as an early enrollee. Alexander was ranked by 247Sports as the top player in the entire state of Alabama and the 17th in the nation. Featuring a stocky build, standing at 6-foot-2, 258 lbs., Alexander is a mean defender with great hands that could very well find himself in a role similar to that of Turner in 2021 prior to taking over as starter.
Another exciting freshman, Jihaad Campbell joined the Tide as an early enrollee for the 2022 season and has an opportunity to make an impact early. A five-star like Alexander, Campbell comes to Tuscaloosa from IMG Academy in Florida where he was ranked as the third best player in the state, according to 247Sports. Featuring a taller, slimmer build than that of Alexander, Campbell is a speedy edge rusher with great balance that plays with extreme versatility.
Fr. Shawn Murphy, 6-foot-2, 224 lbs.
RS Fr. Ian Jackson, 6-foot-1, 235 lbs.
Jr. Jordan Smith, 5-foot-10, 210 lbs.
Jr. Kyle Flood, Jr., 6-foot, 212 lbs.
Jr. Bennett Whisenhunt, 6-foot-1, 222 lbs.
So. Christian Johnson, 6-foot-5, 230 lbs.
Out for Spring
Keanu Koht joined the Tide in 2021 but was redshirted in his freshman season. Rated as a four-star recruit coming out of Vero Beach, FL, Koht chose the Tide over the likes of LSU, Auburn and more. Standing at 6-foot-4, 231 lbs. Koht has great size for an edge rusher and could compete for a spot in the rotation once healthy.