- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
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Editor's note: From now until the start of spring camp on March 16, TideNation will count down the 12 most intriguing players to watch on the Alabama football roster. Today we look at linebacker C.J. Mosley.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It's difficult to imagine an All-American with something to prove, a linebacker with 100-plus tackles the previous season looking to come back with a vengeance. As difficult it is to picture that, it's even more challenging to consider the fact that C.J. Mosley has never been a starter at the University of Alabama. The first team All-SEC selection has always shared time at inside linebacker despite being one of the Crimson Tide's most productive players.
Indeed, a few tests remain for the rising senior from Theodore, Ala. Mosley will be tasked with stepping into the shoes of a full-time starter in 2013 now that fellow linebacker Nico Johnson is off to try his hand at a career in the NFL.
Mosley, whom many scouts thought highly of as a junior, could have followed suit and entered the draft a year early, but instead opted to return with a chance to further build his legacy at Alabama. So what did he hope to accomplish?
"First-year starter, officially," Mosley said when he announced his intention to return. "Just going from there and being the best I can be."
Former UA defensive end Damion Square said Mosley's production speaks for itself: 107 tackles, eight tackles for loss, four sacks, two interceptions. On top of that, Mosley is one of the leaders of the defense, albeit a quiet one. With Johnson, Square and other more vocal seniors gone, the task of leading a still youthful defense will be even more laborious for Mosley.
"They're so fortunate to have that guy back on the field with them," Square told reporters in the weeks leading up to the BCS National Championship Game. "He's one of the best guys I've played with on the field. I'm not going to go as far as to say the best because I've played with a lot of great guys, but he's definitely up there.
"The guy doesn't really say much but he's so physical, so tough. He's not a very big linebacker, but he plays like he's Ray Lewis or something. He plays so big out on the field. He's great at everything he does. He can pass rush. He can play the run. He can play the pass. There's nothing that coach has ever asked of this guy that he cannot do."
That bodes well for the Alabama moving forward. For as good as Mosley was a year ago, the Crimson Tide will need a similar effort in 2013. As he goes, so goes the entire defense.
As more and more teams move to spread offenses with mobile quarterbacks, athletic linebackers like Mosley becomes increasingly important. Texas A&M's fleet-footed quarterback Johnny Manziel carved up Alabama for more than 400 yards last season. When the two teams meet again on Sept. 14 in College Station, Texas, chances are Mosley won't leave the field for a single down, staying on whether it's third-and-long or fourth-and-inches.
If there was one hole in Mosley's résumé other than being an every-down linebacker, it's corralling Manziel and the Aggies. By coming back for a final season, the senior linebacker will have a chance to leave Alabama without a single stone unturned.
1dEdward Aschoff and Alex Scarborough
1dAlex Scarborough and Greg Ostendorf