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Crimson Tide photos / Alabama redshirt junior inside linebacker Dylan Moses was a Butkus Award finalist in 2018 but missed all of last season after tearing his ACL four days before the opener against Duke in Atlanta.

There are those already placing an asterisk on the 2020 college football season due to the recent cancellations by the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences.

Of course, the 2019 season bore somewhat of an asterisk for Alabama, which missed out on the College Football Playoff for the very first time. Four days before the Crimson Tide opened with a blowout of Duke in Atlanta last August, they lost junior inside linebacker Dylan Moses for the season due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Moses, who was a Butkus Award finalist as a sophomore in 2018, decided to return to Tuscaloosa for a redshirt junior season and is ready to make amends.

"I want to put the punctuation to the back end of my career here at Alabama," Moses said this week on a Zoom call. "At the same time, I want to affect my teammates. That's the reason I came back. I care about them and I love them, and I want us to get back to how it used to be."

Nick Saban would like that as well.

An 11-2 record would be coveted by almost every program across the country, but the two regular-season losses by the Tide last year marked their most since 2010. That the two setbacks transpired against LSU and Auburn by the scores of 46-41 and 48-45 doesn't exactly sit well with the 14th-year Alabama coach and his defensive-minded prowess.

"We gave up 18 1/2 points a game last year, which is the most we've given up," Saban said this week. "We need better leadership, and I think Dylan Moses can provide some of that. I think we have to play better against the run, and I don't think we played very well in the red area last year. We did a great job of getting turnovers. We got 28, which was first in the conference.

"We just have to get more physical at the line of scrimmage, but the big challenge for this team will be getting the secondary rebuilt after losing four of the five guys."

Stopping the run certainly was an issue during Alabama's two losses. LSU rushed 40 times for 166 yards (4.2 per carry) to complement the passing of Heisman Trophy quarterback Joe Burrow, and it was a bit more noticeable in the Iron Bowl, when Auburn rushed 34 times for 181 yards, averaging 5.3 a pop.

Moses, a 6-foot-3, 240-pounder from Alexandria, Louisiana, cites run defense and a lack of communication as the two biggest deficiencies he could detect last season while watching from the sideline.

"Of course I feel like I could have made a difference, but you can't look back on the past," Moses said. "I'm not trying to be a hard-nosed leader. I'm trying to be like one who can understand his teammates and be there for his brothers.

"We're just trying to get there slowly but surely, and I do feel with me being out there, it gives guys a sense of security and confidence."

Moses was lost for the season a couple of weeks after another inside linebacker, Joshua McMillon, tore his ACL during the first preseason scrimmage. That resulted in Christian Harris and Shane Lee having to start way sooner than anyone could have expected.

"They did great as true freshmen," Moses said. "They did better than I would have done at that time. When I was a freshman in August, I was having to learn so much. I commend them for stepping up and doing a great job. Losing only two games with freshmen at middle linebacker is great."

These have been long, long months for Moses, dealing with the isolation of an injury amid the COVID-19 pandemic. There is also the lingering memory from the last game in which he played — the 44-16 loss to Clemson in the national championship contest of the 2018 season.

Moses promises he won't be cautious during his return, which will be the Sept. 26 opener at Missouri.

"It's been a long process," he said. "I was trying to rush that process, but my body kept telling me, 'No.' Now I feel great, and I don't have any second thoughts."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

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