Alabama was missing two five-star linebackers by the time the College Football Playoff started. The Tide are now missing a crucial four-star at the position, too, ahead of Monday’s Playoff National Championship against Georgia (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Starting Mike linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton has been out since early November with a fractured kneecap. One of his primary backups, freshman Dylan Moses, went down with a foot injury during practice before the Tide’s Sugar Bowl semifinal against Clemson. Moses’ status for the title game isn’t clear yet.
Hamilton and Moses were five-star recruits in the classes of 2014 and 2017, respectively, and are two of the best linebacker prospects in recent memory.
In the Clemson game, four-star Jack backer Anfernee Jennings led the Tide with three tackles for loss. Then he injured his left knee. Now he’s done, too. (Bama’s “Jack” position is more or less an outside linebacker who blitzes a lot, though there’s more to it than that.)
That’s 14 stars’ worth of three linebackers the Tide are missing. And that only scratches the surface of how many health problems Bama’s LBs have had this year.
Bama’s top remaining inside linebacker is Mack Wilson, a sophomore who missed two games in November. Edge backers Christian Miller and Terrell Lewis were both hurt in Week 1’s game against then-No. 3 Florida State and were supposed to miss the year, but returned in time to play Auburn in the Iron Bowl two days after Thanksgiving.
Somehow, it doesn’t even seem like Bama’s in trouble.
That’s the benefit of being Alabama. The Tide signed the country’s No. 1 class for seven years in a row until Georgia dethroned them in the upcoming class of 2018. The result is that Bama is still putting an elite talent on the field at every linebacker position. The Tide’s likely starters, based on their Sugar Bowl depth cart:
- Jack (blitzer): Miller, a former four-star who’d been backing up Jennings
- Mike (inside): Wilson, a former five-star and the top remaining player at his position after the injuries to Hamilton and Moses
- Will (weak-side): Rashaan Evans, a former five-star
- Sam (strong-side): Lewis, a former five-star; or Jamey Mosley, a former walk-on
So, Bama can still play a blue-chip at every linebacker position.
It’s not that there’s no difference between Alabama’s starters and backups. That’s why they’re Alabama’s starters and backups. But the Tide are so loaded that even when they lose three of the most skilled linebackers anywhere, they can slide an elite talent in to replace every one of them. The drop off is smaller than it would be anywhere else.
There are a couple of teams that have similar linebacking depth. Georgia is one of them, with nine four- or five-star backers on its roster. When coaches recruit that volume of high-end talent, they think they’re building for the future and keeping their roster stocked for the long haul. It’s turned out that Bama has needed almost all of these players at once, and the Tide could win the title because they have them.