In its illustrious program history, Alabama has brought in some of the most talented linebackers in the nation. From DeMeco Ryans, Rolando McClain and Eryk Anders to Dont’a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw and Nico Johnson, the strength of Alabama’s defense comes from the linebacker position.
CJ Mosley was unarguably the leader on defense for the Crimson Tide in the past two seasons. In 2012, he led the team in tackles with 99. Mosley also had four sacks, two interceptions, three quarterback hurries, two pass breakups and a forced fumble.
Mosley led the team in tackles with 108 (9.0 tackles for loss). He also had five pass breakups, 10 quarterback hurries and a forced fumble. With Mosley pursuing the NFL, two players will have to step up and fill the role next season: Trey DePriest and Dillon Lee.
Alabama fans know DePriest as a hard-hitting middle linebacker. In 2012, he was second on the team in tackles with 56. He also had two pass breakups and two quarterback hurries. This season, DePriest finished third on the team in tackles this season with 65 (7.5 tackles for loss). He also totaled two sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, a pass breakup and an interception.
At 6-foot-4, 242 pounds, Dillon Lee was a pleasant surprise for Crimson Tide fans to watch this season. As a freshman (2012), Lee played in eight games and was primarily used on kickoff coverage. In the matchup against Michigan, Lee had one tackle and one interception. This season, he showed Nick Saban and company how big of a contributor he could be in both special teams and defense.
Lee played in 13 games this season. Despite finishing just 18th on the team in tackles this season with 16, Lee had two quarterback hurries and a fumble recovery. Lee’s best performances this season came against Georgia State, Tennessee and Colorado State. In the matchup against the Panthers, Lee totaled three tackles and a fumble recovery.
Against the Volunteers, Lee had three tackles and in the game against the Rams, he scored a 15-yard touchdown off a blocked punt.
Saban pushes special teams more so than offense and defense. In most cases, the players that excel on special teams earn a starting spot in the rotation. Like Vinnie Sunseri, Dee Hart and Landon Collins, Lee got his start for Saban via special teams. Now that he’s shown success in this aspect, Saban will trust Lee at the linebacker position to start next season.
Two things that jump out at people about Lee are his motor and leaping ability. Don’t let the 4.6 in the 40-yard dash time fool you. Lee is deceptively fast and has a motor that never stops running. With a 35.5 inch vertical jump, Lee excels at batting down balls in pass coverage.
As a high school player, Lee was the definition of big time, big play. The Buford, Ga., native was four-star recruit upon graduating Buford High School. In his senior year (2010), Lee posted 84 tackles (17 tackles for loss), nine sacks, five interceptions and a fumble recovery.
In his tenure at Buford, Lee led a defense that surrendered just 7.3 points per game. Buford High School won four straight Georgia State Championships from 2007-10.
Lee was ranked as the No. 6 outside linebacker by ESPN and the No. 5 player in Georgia. Rivals 250 had Lee as the No. 3 outside linebacker and the No. 9 prospect in the state of Georgia. Lee was ranked as the No. 4 middle linebacker according to Scout.com and the No. 12 outside linebacker according to 247 sports.
Alabama allowed 106.2 rushing yards per game, but just eight rushing scores this season. In pass defense, the Tide surrendered 13 touchdowns, but intercepted 11 passes. Opposing teams converted just 35 percent on third down against Alabama. The Crimson Tide’s defense gave up red-zone touchdowns just 56 percent of the time.
Though Alabama’s defense finished fourth nationally in scoring defense (13.9 points per game), they struggled containing up-tempo, no huddle offenses (Texas A&M, Auburn and Oklahoma). Defensive Coordinator Kirby Smart will look to address this issue in the offseason and better equip the team for next season.
Every team in college football has adopted the “next man up” mantra. It’s the passing of the torch from one player to another in the aspect of leadership. This season, up-tempo, no-huddle offenses caused the Tide’s defense a ton of confusion.
Despite Lee playing a lot on special teams and contributing on defense, next season will provide him with his first true taste of leadership. For Lee, it will up to him along with DePriest, Reuben Foster and Reggie Ragland to carry on Alabama’s defense. The question remaining happens to be is Lee ready to be a leader for Alabama?