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Who emerges as the ILB next to Deontae Lawson for Alabama?

Alabama LB Kendrick Blackshire (#40) working through drills during 2022 spring practice.
Photo by Rodger Champion of Alabama Athletics

Alabama’s success with winning national championships on defense has stemmed from having elite players at the inside linebacker position.

The Crimson Tide fielded names such as Rolando McClain, Donta Hightower, C.J. Mosley, Nico Johnson, Reggie Ragland, Reuben Foster, Shaun Dion Hamilton, and Rashaan Evans at inside linebacker and all paced the Tide to national championships.

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Dylan Moses played through an injury in 2020, and Christian Harris was in his second year as a linebacker, but both assisted Alabama to a College Football Playoff National Championship in 2020. Tide fans have been concerned with the lack of fearsome performances from inside linebackers in the last few years. Alabama has recruited players to return respect to the position, including Deontae Lawson. Lawson, a four-star from Mobile, Ala., came to the Crimson Tide in its 2021 class.

He earned four starts in 11 games of action, totaling 51 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and four pass breakups.

Lawson added five pounds to his 6-foot-2 frame this offseason, improving from 225 to 230 pounds. He plays confidently as a linebacker, and the coaching staff expects big production next fall. Who plays next to Lawson as the other inside linebacker?

Alabama has a running conversation with this question until preseason camp.

Nick Saban has several names to pick from, and a breakdown is below.

Kendrick Blackshire

Alabama fans loved his film from Duncanville (Texas) High School, but is it Kendrick Blackshire’s time to become a star for the Crimson Tide?

He arrived in the 2021 recruiting class as one of the most imposing linebackers.

Blackshire dropped seven pounds in the Fourth Quarter Program, moving from 240 to 233 but possesses the quickness to attack plays. He missed the last five games of the 2022 regular season with a hand injury, but Blackshire returned for the Allstate Sugar Bowl. He had a role on special teams while playing linebacker, posting six tackles, a tackle for loss, and a quarterback hurry.

Blackshire could be the piece, but the Tide wants to see it.

Jihaad Campbell

Coach Saban spoke highly of Jihaad Campbell during Allstate Sugar Bowl prep.

He took advantage of each practice and got an opportunity to play against Kansas State.

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Campbell, a former five-star, arrived in the 2022 class from IMG Academy but hails from New Jersey.

He’s added five pounds to his 6-foot-3 frame in the offseason, moving from 225 to 230. Campbell has the strength to disengage himself from offensive linemen while having the quickness to shoot gaps and cover passes. His style would put Tide fans in mind of Mack Wilson. If Blackshire does not take over, keep your eyes on Campbell as a starter.

Shawn Murphy

Shawn Murphy came to Alabama as one of the top inside linebackers in 2022.

As a Virginia native, he won the Butkus Award in 2021 as the best high school linebacker in the nation.

Murphy dominated his senior year at Unity Reed High School with 113 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, six sacks, and two interceptions. He served on special teams for Alabama through five games and earned a redshirt. Murphy excelled in bowl prep for Kansas State and performed well in the Fourth Quarter Program. It will be interesting to see if he emerges.

Justin Jefferson

Nick Saban recruits junior college players for a reason.

He sees them as athletes who can immediately contribute with their experience.

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Justin Jefferson, a native of Memphis, Tenn., comes as a transfer from Pearl City Community College in Kansas. The 6-foot-1, 215-pounder needs to add more weight, but he runs a verified 4.38 40-time. Jefferson totaled 143 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, five sacks, and an interception in two years at Pearl City. He brings talent and experience, but Jefferson needs SEC weight.

Trezmen Marshall 

Trezmen Marshall has a national championship pedigree from the University of Georgia.

He contributed as a linebacker for the Bulldogs in 2022, tallying 19 tackles in 14 of 15 games as a reserve player.

Marshall posted seven stops in four of 15 games in 2021, getting his first College Football Playoff National Championship ring with Georgia. The 6-foot-1, 230-pounder looks to become impactful for the Crimson Tide. Alabama is hoping he brings the toughness and grit from the Bulldogs to Tuscaloosa. Henry To’oto’o came in from Tennessee and took Alabama’s middle linebacker job in 2021. Marshall could follow up with the same success.

Other linebackers to watch: Qua Russaw, Ian Jackson

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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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