Quick, do you know who led the University of Alabama football team in tackles during the 2017 national championship season?
It was safety Ronnie Harrison.
Although linebacker was supposed to be a major strength for the Crimson Tide, the only one to play in all 14 games was Keith Holcombe, and he made only three starts.
Having a defensive back top the team in tackles isn’t that surprising, but Harrison’s 74 were the fewest by anyone to lead the Crimson Tide during the Nick Saban era.
His performance shouldn’t be diminished by the injuries, either. When Shaun Dion Hamilton suffered a broken kneecap against LSU, he went into the game with 37 tackles. He was solidly in second behind Harrison, who led the team leaderboard with 44.
Against the Tigers, Hamilton was credited with 3 tackles before being sidelined while Harrison made 6 tackles, a half-sack and an interception to be named SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Week.
What’s interesting is that even though Reuben Foster had the most tackles in a single season (2016) of any Alabama player to suit up for Saban, the Crimson Tide are still bucking a trend.
With college football becoming more and more offensive oriented, with teams doing everything they can to execute as many plays as possible, defenses are having to make more plays. So overall tackles are up.
Alabama is no exception, although last season the Crimson Tide skipped a game by not playing in the SEC Championship Game.
Alabama’s total snaps by opponents (average)
- 2011: 720 (55.4)
- 2012: 837 (59.9)
- 2013: 771 (59.3)
- 2014: 945 (67.5)
- 2015: 963 (64.2)
- 2016: 983 (65.5)
- 2017: 913 (65.2)
One would think the result of more snaps would be more standout players having inflated numbers, but that hasn’t been the case.
Alabama’s leading tacklers have been posting numbers nowhere near those of Saban’s previous teams, despite also playing more games.
Most tackles in a season by a Saban-coached player
Name, School, Season, Tackles
- Bradie James, LSU, 2002, 154
- Ike Reese, Michigan State, 1997, 137
- Aric Morris, Michigan State, 1999, 132
- Aric Morris, Michigan State, 1998, 127
- Sorie Kanu, Michigan State, 1998, 121
- Trev Faulk, LSU, 2001, 119
- Reuben Foster, Alabama, 2016, 115
- Ike Reese, Michigan State, 1996, 115
- Trev Faulk, LSU, 2000, 113
- Bradie James, LSU, 2001, 113
The reasons why are numerous, but college football isn’t played nearly as much between the tackles as it used to be, and countering the spread has led to speed being emphasized more than ever.
Saban’s scheme is still about shutting down the running lanes and chasing everything else, but combined with Alabama having a lot of talent across the board there have been fewer opportunities to post big numbers.
Nevertheless, any conversation about who might lead the Crimson Tide in tackles has to begin with a look at who has led the team each year since Saban arrived in 2007.
- 2007 Rashad Johnson, S, 94
- 2008 Rolando McClain, LB, 95
- 2009 Rolando McClain, LB, 105
- 2010 Mark Barron, S, 75
- 2011 Dont’a Hightower, LB, 85
- 2012 C.J. Mosley, LB, 107
- 2013 C.J. Mosley, LB, 108
- 2014 Landon Collins, S, 103
- 2015 Reggie Ragland, LB, 102
- 2016 Reuben Foster, LB, 115
- 2017 Ronnie Harrison, LB, 74
The first thing that stands out about that list are the positions. Eight times the team was led by an interior linebacker, the other three being the strong safety. That narrows the field considerably.
The second thing is that just about every player on the list was an established veteran during the season listed. However, that doesn’t mean much for this discussion as just about everyone in the interior and in the secondary will be new starters in 2018.
Three strong possibilities stand out, and none of them should be surprise: Mack Wilson, Dylan Moses and Deionte Thompson. All three have made exactly two career starts, so no one knows for certain how they’ll stand up over the course of an entire season.
However, Thompson’s career high for tackles in a game is 5, so even though opponents are going to do everything they can to challenge Alabama’s revamped secondary he’s the third-best choice.
Moses had 11 tackles against Mercer, followed by 10 against Auburn before suffering his season-ending foot injury. He’ll be the top guy at chasing down ball carriers, but he’ll also be used as a pass-rusher.
We're excited to see more of Dylan Moses this year pic.twitter.com/PgWI98myJM
— PFF College (@PFF_College) May 5, 2018
Consequently, Wilson will have the best opportunity to lead the team.
While Moses might be a Rashaan Evans clone, Wilson is the new version of Hamilton, who will be relaying play calls and making pre-snap adjustments. He’s also following in the footsteps of McClain, Hightower, Mosley and Ragland.
Against Georgia in the National Championship Game, Wilson was credited with 12 tackles, which was a season high for the Crimson Tide. He won’t do that every game, but he’s the best bet of any Alabama player to top 100 tackles in the fall.