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March 11, 2011
Moving forward: Led by returning starters Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw, the linebacking corps will be deep and experienced entering spring practice. Hightower will look to regain the step he admitted losing due to a knee injury, and provides strong leadership on the defensive side of the ball. Upshaw gives UA a proven pass rusher off the edge who was dominant last year when not hampered by an ankle sprain (see Upshaw's games vs. Florida , Auburn and Michigan State ). Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley was the star of the freshman class last year, becoming a full-time starter by midseason. Nico Johnson also brings plenty of experience to the inside position entering spring drills.
Moving up: Among the remaining linebackers, the more experienced reserves include Chris Jordan (ILB), Alex Watkins (OLB) and Jerrell Harris (OLB). Tana Patrick, Adrian Hubbard, Jonathan Atchison and Petey Smith will be challenged to make a move for playing time in a group that returns virtually everyone from a year ago.
Moving day: Early-enrolling signees Vinnie Sunseri, son of UA assistant coach Sal Sunseri, and Trey DePriest join a deep and talented group of linebackers this spring.
Position overview: Perhaps the biggest question in this unit will be who will emerge as a starter at the strongside position. Harris is a strong candidate there. But considering the strongside spot doesn't see the field as much as the other linebacker positions, the unit has plenty of experience with Hightower, Mosley and Upshaw returning at starters at the other three spots. Spring will be ideal for a bevy of young linebackers to grow and learn, as practice reps for reserves are fewer in-season.
Reach Chase Goodbread at email@example.com or at 205-722-0196. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ChaseGoodbread.