Tide looking for right mix at linebacker

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Spring practice is always experimental time for Alabama coach Nick Saban, and that’s especially true of the linebackers this spring.

Saban said the linebackers are moving around to different spots just about every practice.

“We want to find the right combination, who can do what and who can’t do what … and I’m going to find out now, not in the fall,” Saban said.

The Crimson Tide’s plan is for Dont’a Hightower to slide into the middle linebacker spot occupied by Rolando McClain the past two seasons. Hightower would play there in Alabama’s base defense and then move outside to the Jack linebacker spot in passing situations.

Saban’s insistent that the linebackers learn all of the positions.

For example, junior Chris Jordan worked some outside at strong side linebacker earlier this week in practice, while junior Jerrell Harris worked inside at the weak side spot. One of the best battles of the spring will be at weak side linebacker, where Harris and Nico Johnson will battle it out.

Then again, if Saban feels like Alabama is best with both Harris and Johnson on the field together, Harris has also played the strong side in the past. The Crimson Tide like his ability to cover people in the nickel package, and his overall athleticism is off the charts.

“We’ve got a lot of guys at linebacker who can run, guys who can really get to the ball,” said Hightower, who’s also worked at weakside linebacker. “We’re trying to find that right mix. It’s just like me as a freshman. I didn’t know I could rush the passer. I had no idea. But it’s something now that I look forward to.

“It’s one of Coach Saban’s strong points. He’s going to find the best of you."

It’s been an excellent start to the spring for Harris, who was suspended for the first six games last season. He’s up to 238 pounds and playing a little more instinctively every day.

Before the suspension, Saban said Harris was a potential starter in a few of the Crimson Tide’s packages. But missing the first half of the season relegated him to special teams when he returned.

Saban said Harris had an excellent offseason and has been hard to miss this spring, as the Crimson Tide look to replace three starters at linebacker.

“He’s done a really, really good job all spring,” Saban said. “He makes plays and is very instinctive.”