Jan 7, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Theo Riddick (middle) is tackled by Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker C.J. Mosley (32) during the first half of the 2013 BCS Championship game at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

2013 Alabama Crimson Tide Preview: Linebackers

WHO TO WATCH: Trey DePriest (JR.)

By far the deepest position on the Alabama Crimson Tide defense is the linebacker crew. Three of the four starters are back, with senior All-American CJ Mosley, possibly the most talented linebacker in the country, leading the group and the defense as a whole.

The Tide defense will miss the leadership of four-year starter Nico Johnson, but all four of Alabama’s “starters” will be returning, as Johnson shared time with both Mosley and DePriest.

You can’t talk about Alabama’s linebackers without noting the extremely talented CJ Mosley at the Will position. Mosley has been a big part of the Alabama defense since the minute he stepped foot on campus, and has developed into one of the finest NFL prospects in all of the nation. Mosley and Nico Johnson have spent the last three years sharing time, with Mosley spending the majority of his time in the Nickel defense (or passing downs), while Nico was the man on running downs. Now, Mosley will have the chance to show he can be a full-time, all-around linebacker and will likely not leave the field very much this season.

Mosley finished last season with a team-leading 107 tackles, eight tackles-for-loss, four sacks, two interceptions, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery. He was a consensus first-team All-American and All SEC player, as well as a finalist for the 2012 Butkus Award.

Mosley is an excellent tackler with great closing speed, and that along with his long wingspan make him one of the better linebackers in the coverage when it comes to covering tight ends. His instincts are second to none in diagnosing passing plays, and his ability on blitzes is very underrated.

The one attribute that is going to a test for him is his on- and off-field leadership. Nico Johnson held that mantle for the last couple of years and was the unquestioned leader of the defense last season. Now a veteran like Mosley will be called upon to take on that leadership role.

Junior Adrian Hubbard started every game last year At the Sam position, and tallied 41 tackles, 11 tackles-for-loss, seven sacks, three forced fumbles, and four QB hurries. Hubbard led the team in TFL (tackles for loss), sacks, and forced fumbles in 2012 and has also spent time at Jack linebacker.

The massive 6-foot-6, 252-pound junior is a unique player on the Alabama defense, with an incredible wingspan and great speed off the edge. He could develop into a dominant pass rusher, but is also solid against the run. In four-man fronts Hubbard will typically line at defensive end, which is where he is at his deadliest. Another solid performance this season will likely solidify him as a top NFL Draft prospect and a likely jump to the league next year bypassing his senior season.

Returning to the middle of the Alabama defense at Mike is junior Trey DePriest. He started all but two games last season and recorded 59 tackles, four TFL, two passes broken up, and two QB hurries.

DePriest is what you would consider a “thumper” in the middle of the Alabama defense, as he relishes contact and is extremely strong and physical. He is expected to develop into yet another great Mike in a long list of great ones under Nick Saban. One setback has been the fact that he fractured his foot in the second half of Spring practices. He is expected to be back at full strength by the Fall.

Back at Jack linebacker will be Junior Xzavier Dickson. He ended 2012 with seven starts netting 33 tackles, five TFL, 3.5 sacks, four QB hurries, and one FF. The speedy pass rushing specialist will likely see even more time in 2013 and in four-man fronts will join Hubbard on the line at times.

2012 Freshman All-American Denzel Devall will likely share time with Dickson at Jack and will also play on the line at times. Late last season he became a third down pass rush specialist, garnering 18 tackles, three TFL, two sacks, three QB hurries, and one fumble recovery.

Redshirt Freshman Ryan Anderson at Sam and Sophomore Reggie Ragland at Mike will likely see playing time in Alabama’s rotation during the year. With the depth at linebacker, Saban didn’t go after many linebackers in this past recruiting class, but he did sign five-star Reuben Foster, Barrett Jones’ baby brother Walker Jones, and probably the most interesting prospect in Jonathan Allen.

Foster and Allen may push for playing time early but the depth and experience at Linebacker could force a redshirt on both players unless they can make an impact on special teams. The speedy Allen looks to be the perfect fit for the Jack spot in Alabama’s defense, while Foster likely starts out at Will or Mike.

Losing an experienced player like Nico Johnson would likely be a big hit for most defenses, but with Alabama’s deep talent pool the drop-off will more than likely be nonexistent. The question for many of these players will be; when can you get some of the talent on the field? That’s a nice problem to have.

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