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Nick Saban explains why Alabama took a redshirt off another freshman LB

Alabama freshman linebacker VanDarius Cowan (#43) going through drills with OLBs in fall camp: Alicia Devine - Touchdown Alabama Magazine

TUSCALOOSA, Ala.– While this has been the most injury-stricken Alabama team under Nick Saban during his tenure, it has provided fans with a chance to see fresh talent take shape. 

In the aftermath of losing Christian Miller and Terrell Lewis for the season, freshmen LaBryan Ray and Chris Allen were two of three players the Crimson Tide had to ditch redshirts on. 

Not having linebackers Rashaan Evans and Anfernee Jennings for a couple games also played into the decision, as defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt went into teaching mode. Despite all the medical mishaps – including one with senior Da’Shawn Hand – Alabama has managed to remain undefeated and rank among the top programs nationally in rush defense and scoring defense. 

The third individual from the 2017 signing class that was initially going to be redshirted played last week against Tennessee at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Hailing from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., VanDarius Cowan was not only a major target in the recruiting class, but he also served as cheerleader in helping to land other top prospects to Tuscaloosa. Garnering a four-star rating from 247Sports and a five-star grade from Scout, Cowan had 104 tackles as a junior in 2016. 

He would pick up 13 tackles for loss, seven sacks and four quarterback hurries on the year, to earn recognition as one of the top linebacker recruits in Florida.

After choosing Alabama over Florida State, Miami, LSU, Ole Miss and Oregon, it seems like Cowan is ready to contribute. 

He saw action in the fourth quarter against the Volunteers, but with his size at 6-foot-4 and 236 pounds, the product of Palm Beach Gardens High School carries the same body type as former Tide edge rusher Tim Williams. Although he’s excited about the potential Cowan has, Saban told the media on Tuesday that he cannot tell what the future in lies for the four-star at Alabama. 

“He’s worked really hard and he’s given a lot of effort,” Saban said of Cowan.  

“He’s been very productive on the scout team. We decided that we would go ahead and play him, coach him and develop him because of our situation at outside linebacker.” 

The main thing Saban desires with all freshmen is to develop them into guys that can play winning football for the institution. According to him, Cowan’s ability to play and be a critical factor depends on how fast he can handle everything.  

“We are going to play against some teams that will be in regular formations and we’re going to have to play regular people,” he said. “We thought that we would need him in this next game versus LSU.” 

By “regular,” Saban is referring to a defense that comes out with three down linemen, four linebackers and four defensive backs. Should the Tide face some 4-3 alignments, then it becomes four down linemen, three linebackers and still four defensive backs to round out the scheme. 

Aside from football jargon, the point is Saban wants to get Cowan ready. 

Much like Ray, Allen and other true freshmen on defense, the 236-pounder has plenty of upside and can be a real terror for offenses when he learns the system.  

Stephen M. Smith is the managing editor and senior writer for Touchdown Alabama Magazine.  You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @Smsmith_TDALMag.

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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