Linebackers Foster, Ragland key to Crimson Tide's defense
Despite the focus on their dominant defensive line, linebackers Reggie Ragland and Reuben Foster may be the key to Alabama’s success so far this season. The front line that features a handful of near-household names – Jarran Reed, Jonathan Allen, A’Shawn Robinson – is deserving of the attention they get, but it’s the all-around play of the team’s second-level standouts that gives the Tide the versatile edge on defense that they need for another run at the title.
Both are ranked among the Power 5’s top 20 off-ball linebackers, Ragland’s overall grade of +23.3 has him in the top 10 while Foster’s +17.5 is 17th. In coverage Foster’s +9.1 is third at the position and Ragland’s +7.1 is seventh. In the space between that D-line and the Eddie Jackson-led secondary, the coverage ability of the linebackers is critical as Alabama faces foes determined to get the ball out quickly and limit pass rush damage.
Against Mississippi State this week, it was Foster’s turn (+7.6) to rack up the top grade and again his versatility was a bright spot. Foster graded in the green (+1.1 or better) in every facet including his fourth green grade in coverage — a +2.7 that was partly due to knocking away three Dak Prescott passes. Ragland has earned similar coverage grades in five games this season.
With Alabama’s grinding style on both sides of the ball dependent on their ability to pound opponents and then pull away with eventual homeruns, up-tempo attacks could give them trouble – and have in the past. These weapons in the middle of the defense are the countermeasure; Foster is fifth in the Power 5 having given up just 0.28 yards per cover snap on 263 plays in coverage and Ragland boasts a mark of 0.65 on 271.
Add to those stingy coverage numbers some sure tackling — they’ve missed just four tackles in 49 chances in coverage — and you find a duo that is able to cover ground, keep plays in front of them, and eat up the under routes. They can disrupt chain-moving passing games, help get the ball back to their offense and keep the constricting Alabama plan on track.