When Alabama's budding inside linebacker star, Dont'a Hightower, blew out his knee and was declared unable to play for the rest of the 2009 season, Tide fans tore their clothes and wept.
Alabama coach Nick Saban shifted outside linebacker Cory Reamer to Hightower's position and added Courtney Upshaw to the starting lineup at Reamer's position for the next game, which was against Kentucky. It didn't work too well, as Kentucky found weaknesses in the defense and gained 133 yards on the ground and 168 in the air.
It was obvious that someone needed to try to fill in for Hightower. Since top backup Jerrell Harris was suspended, all eyes turned to true freshmen Nico Johnson and Tana Patrick. Saban announced before the Ole Miss game that Nico Johnson would start.
Johnson played well and made everyone forget that he was a true freshman. He made 27 tackles (including 4.5 for a loss), one sack, two PBU's, and forced a fumble.
The sky is the limit in 2010 for sophomore Johnson, who was a five-star recruit coming out of high school.
Alabama has lost Iron Man, I mean Rolando McClain, at the "Mike" Linebacker position, so it looks like the returning Hightower will have to fill his shoes next year. Unless Johnson is bumped off by another player, it appears he will continue to start at one of the Linebacker positions.
With players like Johnson, Tana Patrick, Jonathon Atchison, and Ed Stinson, 'Bama fans should be excited about the Tide linebacker unit for the next few years.