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Alabama Crimson Tide: Is CJ Mosley the best linebacker in the nation?

With CJ Mosley returning for his senior season at Alabama, he will be looked at as the leader of a young defense. With veteran SEC linebackers from last year now in the NFL, the question that lingers is if Mosley is the best linebacker in the SEC and the nation. In his ability to locate the ball, shoot the gap and make crisp tackles along with his ability to read the pass and break on the ball, many believe that he is. But the answer to the question is he the best will be answered in the 2013 college football season.

As a native of Theodore, Ala., Mosley has always had big-play ability written all over him. He attended and played football for Theodore High School. He finished his career as an All-State and high school All-American linebacker and the school’s all-time leading tackler with over 500 stops. He was listed as the No. 6 outside linebacker in his class and was regarded as a four-star recruit by As a true freshman, Mosley played in all 13 games for the Tide. He recorded 67 total tackles, half a sack and two interceptions. 

Though he dislocated his shoulder in 2011, causing him to miss two games in the season, he shared the weak side linebacker position with Nico Johnson. The coaching staff observed Mosley’s ability to move from sideline to sideline and was impressed with his lateral quickness.  This parlayed into having him play more in pass coverage.  Mosely was a huge contributor in 2011 when he was healthy. He played 11 games and started in six of them. He recorded 37 tackles and two sacks, but his big moment came in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game against LSU.

In a game dominated by the Alabama defense, Mosley delivered the crushing blow to the psyche of LSU when he intercepted a Jordan Jefferson pass that was intended for Spencer Ware. He read the footwork and eyes of Jefferson beautifully and while other defenders were concerned with Jefferson’s athletic ability, he played back in coverage and was able to break on the football. Mosley’s interception sealed the deal and gave Alabama its 14th national title by the score of 21-0.

Last season was not only Mosley’s best year as a player, but also as a leader. In the absence of Courtney Upshaw and Dont’a Hightower, he truly stepped up and became the nucleus of the defense.  He started 10-of-14 games and recorded 107 tackles, four sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble. In a season when Alabama lost a lot of defensive talent to the NFL Draft and many analysts thought that the Tide wouldn’t make it to the “Promised Land”, Mosley answered the bell and led the Alabama defense back to the national title game.

With Mosely leading the way, Alabama led the nation in total defense (246.00 yards per game allowed) and rush defense (79.77 yards per game allowed) in 2012. They were second behind Notre Dame in points allowed, surrendering 10.7 points per game. Against the Irish, it was no contest. Alabama routed Notre Dame 42-14 and Mosley, who had eight total tackles, was Defensive MVP for the Tide. In just three short seasons, CJ Mosley was a Capital One Bowl champion, a two-time BCS National Champion, a BCS title game MVP, a consensus All-American and a finalist for the Butkus Award.

To give credit to Mosley, the linebacker position is not the easiest on the field. Like quarterbacks are coaches on offense, linebackers are coaches on defense. Their job is to mirror the quarterback on the opposing team. Whether it is countering audibles at the line of scrimmage and getting players in position to make plays or showing the quarterback different defensive looks, linebackers must be able to get inside the head of a quarterback and confuse him. After recognizing what the play call is linebackers must have the instinct to fly toward the ball.

We have heard the old saying, “this guy has a nose for the football.” To be successful in this league as a linebacker, one must have the mentality to attack and get to the football. Outside of having insight on what the play is and how to get to the football, linebackers need to follow gap assignments.  Football has three types of linebackers: middle (Mike), strong side (Sam) and weak side (Will) with four types of gaps: A, B, C and D

The purpose for these gaps is to provide linebackers a way to attack the offensive line and stuff the play for a loss or no gain. The “A” gaps are between the center and guards, “B” gaps are between the guards and tackles, “C” gaps are between tackles and tight ends and the “D” gaps are outside the tight ends. In order for linebackers to converge and make a play on the ball, whether it’s tackling the running back or sacking the quarterback, they must understand which gap they need to attack. For middle linebackers, the “A” gap would be the best choice and especially if you have a dominate nose guard that demands a double team.

When the center and guard have to handle a nose guard, this opens up the “A” gap for the linebacker to come in unblocked and have his pick of the running back or quarterback.  Most weak side linebackers attack the “D” gap. This allows them to use their lateral quickness and get to the running back or a dual-threat quarterback that tries to get to the perimeter of a defense. Like Mike and Sam, the Will linebacker is prone to stopping the run, but he can also drop back and defend the slot receiver.

In the SEC, we have seen some of the best linebackers in the game including Jarvis Jones, Kevin Minter, Alec Ogletree, Jonathan “John” Bostic, Corey Lemonier, Perry Riley, Brandon and Takeo Spikes and Patrick Willis. These guys possessed a motor that never stopped running and a will to get after the ball. All nine of these players were successful in college and most of them have taken the NFL by storm. Like the SEC, other conferences have produced linebackers that are leaders at the next level including Terrell Suggs, Trent Cole, James Laurinaitis, Clay Matthews and Ray Lewis (retired).

For Alabama, many players have graced the Capstone and earned the right to play at the linebacker position. Defensively, Alabama’s strength lies at linebacker and with prior players like Cornelius Bennett, Dwayne Rudd, DeMeco Ryans, Rolando McClain, Dont’a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw and Nico Johnson, there is no question why Alabama was able to succeed. Between McClain, Hightower, Upshaw and Johnson, the Crimson Tide has two SEC titles and three national championships. After deciding to forgo an early entry into the NFL and come back for his senior season, Mosley is another Alabama linebacker who is about to cement his name among the ranks of the best.

CJ Mosley Interception Return Touchdown against Michigan

Stephen Smith is a 2015 graduate of the University of Alabama. He is a senior writer and reporter for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. He has covered Alabama football for 10+ years and his knowledge and coverage of the Crimson Tide's program have made him among the most respected journalist in his field. Smith has been featured on ESPN and several other marquee outlets as an analyst.

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