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Alabama Football: Who wins the starting job at middle linebacker next season?

Christian Harris communicates with the rest of the defense
Photo by Kent Gidley of Alabama Athletics/SEC Media Portal

A lot of positional battles will happen in the spring for Alabama football.

One spot to have a new face as a starter will be at middle linebacker. After four years with Dylan Moses — including one season where he did not play — the Baton Rouge (La.) native is headed to the NFL Draft. A knee injury kept him from having a monster year in 2020; however, he still had 80 tackles (6.5 tackles for loss), 1.5 sacks, three pass breakups, one forced fumble, and one interception. The former five-star was named first-team All-SEC and is a two-time College Football Playoff National Champion.

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With the experience it is losing offensively to the draft, Alabama needs its defense to anchor it in the fall.

Since the start of his national championship run in 2009, people have identified Nick Saban’s defenses by how strong the performance is at middle linebacker. The Crimson Tide had Rolando McClain in 2009, Dont’a Hightower in 2011, C.J. Mosley in 2012, Reggie Ragland in 2015, and Rashaan Evans in 2017. All of those teams won national titles, due to excellent play in the middle. While it did not capture a trophy at the end of the 2016 season, Reuben Foster was a dominant force and scared quarterbacks.

Despite Saban hoisting the College Football Playoff National Championship trophy on Jan. 11, Alabama’s offense paced it to the honor.

As it looks to replace Moses, yours truly of Touchdown Alabama Magazine has the lineup of names for the position.

Christian Harris

Christian Harris is in a familiar situation.

Before names such as C.J. Mosley, Reuben Foster, Rashaan Evans, and Mack Wilson played middle linebacker, all of them started on the weakside.

Harris was a “Will” linebacker for two years and last season, he took a big jump in his development.

The 6-foot-2, 232-pounder finished with 79 tackles, including a team-high 52 solo stops.

RELATED: Nick Saban compares Alabama to the Yankees in recruiting pitch to Tide recruit

He had seven tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, six quarterback hurries, two pass breakups, and one interception. Between him and Moses, Harris was more productive at inside linebacker.

A native of Baton Rouge, La., Harris was robbed of a spot on the All-SEC team.

Moses did not make big on his money year, but Harris looks to seize the moment.

Jaylen Moody

It is safe to say Jaylen Moody was underrated in the 2018 recruiting cycle.

He was given a three-star rating; nevertheless, he played bigger than the rating in 2020.

He totaled 18 tackles in 13 games, including a career-high seven stops versus Arkansas.

Moody replaced an injured Christian Harris and forced two turnovers in Alabama’s regular-season finale. He was awarded Defensive Player of the Week honors from the Crimson Tide’s coaching staff and has the capability to be productive at “Mike” linebacker.

Moody, a native of Conway, S.C., brings physicality at 6’2″ and 225 pounds.

Shane Lee

He took a huge step back from his Freshman All-American campaign in 2019.

When it comes to the Southeastern Conference, Shane Lee led all freshmen in tackles (86) that year. He finished with 6.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, three quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles, and one interception. Alabama missed the CFP in 2019 and some areas in Lee’s game needed improvement, but he did turn in huge numbers. Regardless of his experience, the Maryland native played in only five games during the 2020 season. He recorded just three tackles.

The 6-foot, 240-pounder does have talent, but has he improved his footwork, speed, and angles to the ball? These are thoughts he must answer in the spring.

Demouy Kennedy (RS freshman)

Demouy Kennedy hails from the training ground as C.J. Mosley: Theodore (Ala.) High School in the Mobile area.

A four-star prospect and one of the top inside linebackers for the 2020 signing class, Kennedy is often compared to Mosley because of his work ethic. Mosley twice led Alabama in tackles (2012, 2013), won SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and was a two-time All-American. According to Justin Smith, the scouting and recruiting analyst for TDA, Eric Collier (head coach at Theodore) called Kennedy the ‘hardest working kid he ever coached.’ Collier was Mosley’s defensive coordinator during his time.

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Kennedy had 69 tackles as a senior for the Bobcats, including eight for loss. He collected two breakups and one interception.

Offensively, he scored three touchdown runs out of the Wildcat formation.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder saw action in four games at Alabama last year. If he can emerge, Kennedy would retain Christian Harris at weakside linebacker. He has a year in the defensive system and this spring is an opportunity for him to rise.

Deontae Lawson (true freshman)

He was the first verbal commitment to Alabama’s top-ranked 2021 signing class.

Deontae Lawson, like Kennedy, has been compared to C.J. Mosley. Lawson, an alumnus of Mobile Christian High School, has the body type, football intelligence, speed, and lateral quickness to be an elite middle linebacker. The 6-foot-3, 225-pounder stands out on tape, especially during his senior year. Lawson can dissect plays, fit run gaps, make secure tackles, pressure quarterbacks, and even sink into coverage to create interceptions. He has a skill set that could make him one of the best to suit up for the Tide.

Name to watch at linebacker: Henry To’o To’o (transfer portal)

Henry To’o To’o is currently in the NCAA transfer portal.

With the dysfunction that had occurred at Tennessee, the talented linebacker entered his name into the portal.

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He was one of Alabama’s top targets for the 2019 recruiting cycle; however, To’o To’o chose the Volunteers. A native of Sacramento, Calif., he chimes in with 148 tackles in two years — including a team-high 76 stops in 2020.

The 6-foot-2, 225-pounder has 15 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, four breakups, five quarterback hurries, and one interception in 23 career games.

If Saban can get him, To’o To’o would bring a huge boost to the linebacker room.

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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 @CoachingMSmith

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