As is the case in every offseason, Alabama Football has lost a lot of talent to the NFL Draft. Following the unanticipated retirement announcement of legendary coach Nick Saban, Bama lost a couple more starters to the transfer portal.
The Crimson Tide still has plenty of blue chip talent left in the program and returns some key members of its 2023 starting lineup.
Two of the most important returnees are inside linebackers Deontae Lawson and Jihaad Campbell. This duo was one of the best in the SEC last season, and both will run it back to boost their draft stock and compete for a championship.
Lawson, a redshirt junior, captains the Alabama defense from his middle linebacker position. Despite missing three games with injuries, Deontae Lawson was able to record 67 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 3.0 sacks in 2023. He was draft eligible following his redshirt sophomore season, so his return is massive. If Lawson can stay healthy, he will likely put up All-SEC numbers in Kane Wommack’s defense.
Rising junior weakside ‘backer Jihaad Campbell was arguably even better in his first season as a starter. Campbell posted 66 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss, an interception, and two fumble recoveries, one of which he ran in for a game-sealing touchdown against Tennessee. Campbell has the ceiling of a first round pick, so this could very well be his last year in the program.
Both of these linebackers are highly instinctual and rangy. Lawson and Campbell cover a lot of ground, both possessing a nose for the ball and sideline-to-sideline speed. They should thrive in 2024, once again playing behind a very good defensive line.
Deontae Lawson and Jihaad Campbell will be the center of the 4-2-5 defense, both in terms of formation and communication. I expect them to wreak havoc on opposing offenses, spending a lot of time in the opponents’ backfield and generating turnovers.
I don’t know that Lawson and Campbell make up the nation’s top linebacker unit, but they are certainly in the conversation and will have every opportunity to prove it in the fall.