Outside linebackers Terrell Lewis and Christian Miller played a part last season in Alabama's fifth national championship of the Nick Saban era, but their roles were limited.
Lewis and Miller were able to join the euphoria after contributing to Alabama's 26-23 overtime victory over Georgia in January's national championship game at Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Yet it was inside that same spacious, $1.6 billion facility the pair suffered injuries in last season's opener against Florida State that resulted in both of them missing the next 10 games.
"Last year made a lot of people realize that you never know when your time is up," Miller said in a recent news conference.
The Crimson Tide's fifth national crown under Saban was their most remarkable given the never-ending injuries that occurred at inside and outside linebacker. In the 24-7 triumph over Florida State, Lewis (torn elbow ligament), Miller (torn biceps), outside linebacker Anfernee Jennings (sprained ankle) and inside linebacker Rashaan Evans (groin) were forced out of the game.
Jennings and Evans each missed the next two contests, returning as Alabama opened Southeastern Conference play at Vanderbilt.
Senior inside linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton had his college career end in early November with a broken kneecap against LSU, while fellow inside linebacker Dylan Moses had his promising freshman season end due to a foot injury in the first on-campus workout for the national semifinal Sugar Bowl against Clemson.
Though Lewis and Miller returned in time for rival Auburn, they were not overly effective in the 26-14 loss. Everyone on Alabama's defense appeared dominant in the 24-6 spanking of Clemson, but Jennings suffered a knee injury during the fourth quarter in New Orleans that required surgery.
Jennings, who had three tackles for loss against a Clemson offense that was held to 188 yards, is not participating in contact work this spring.
"Anfernee kept me uplifted throughout the whole injury process," Lewis said. "To see him step up while I was hurt, and then he got hurt — I had to step up for him. I took it personal."facebook
Lewis certainly stepped up when it mattered most last season, sacking Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm in overtime when the Bulldogs faced third-and-6 at Alabama's 21-yard line. His sack resulted in a 13-yard loss to the 34, which ended Georgia's chances at a touchdown and resulted in a 51-yard field goal by Rodrigo Blankenship that provided the Bulldogs a brief 23-20 advantage.
"I just looped and used my speed," Lewis said. "It was surreal, though, because it was such a big moment. I thought we had gotten them out of field-goal range, but it was still a big moment."
Alabama's injuries at outside linebacker last season resulted in the Tide not having as much pass-rushing productivity at that position compared to 2016, when the tandem of Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams were the starters. Anderson and Williams combined for a staggering 34.5 tackles for loss two seasons ago, as well as 17.5 sacks.
Evans led the Crimson Tide in tackles for loss last season with 13, while defensive end Raekwon Davis tallied a team-high 8.5 sacks.
"We're physical enough," Lewis said. "We're athletic, and we're a long group, so we can do a lot of stuff. We just have to get that experience on the field. A lot of us didn't get enough time last year to get a feel for the game. Christian and I sat out a lot, but we saw from the outside what we can improve on.
"We'll have a lot of guys who can do it, and we'll have a lot of guys looking forward to doing it."
Lewis will be a junior in the upcoming season, while Miller will be a fifth-year senior and Jennings a redshirt junior. Another fifth-year senior, former walk-on Jamey Mosley, played in 13 games last season and made three starts.
It's a position loaded with experience for new Crimson Tide defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi, and it's loaded with players eager to make up for lost time.
"I really want to step up and lead on and off the field," Miller said. "I want to embrace this last year and do everything I can to make my presence known. It's my last year, and I want to get everything out of it that I can."
Said Lewis: "I haven't even scratched the surface yet. The best is yet to come."
Alabama held its fifth spring practice Thursday, working out for two hours in full pads. ... Sophomore linebacker VanDarius Cowan returned to practice after missing the previous two due to academics.
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.