TUSCALOOSA — Soft-spoken by nature, Joshua McMillon approached his first — and very likely only — team-sanctioned media availability much like he did his final season at Alabama: by keeping everything in perspective.
“I would say it’s kind of the same. I try to stick to my same values — keep God first, stay good in school, be the great teammate,” McMillon said last Thursday. “With certain players leaving the defense, coaches ask everyone to step up and lead and I’m just trying to do my best to step up and encourage everyone else around me, step up and make the calls and make the plays.”
And, after four years of biding his time behind some serious talent at his position, McMillon entered preseason camp as the favorite to open the season as the first-team Will linebacker, due in large part to his general experience compared to others and knowledge of the defense.
It appears McMillon’s run as a starting linebacker at Alabama ended before it ever began after he suffered a significant right knee injury in Saturday’s preseason scrimmage that will require surgery and “keep him out for an indefinite period” of time, according to head coach Nick Saban.
"We have a great medical staff here and he will have the full support of everyone in the organization as he goes through the rehab process," Saban said. "We are confident Josh will make a full recovery.”
Although Saban didn’t get into specifics regarding that recovery, McMillon's injury is believed to have season-long implications according to a report from AL.com, though there appears to be some hope for a potential end-of-year return should the rehab process go smoothly.
McMillon’s absence affects the Crimson Tide’s depth at inside linebacker. Beyond returning junior starter Dylan Moses, who slides over from Will to the Mike/middle ‘backer role that was manned by Mack Wilson last season, Alabama is thin on quality experience.
The next man up now is redshirt sophomore Markail Benton, who registered only 83 total snaps and nine did-not-participates last season, all of coming during conference and postseason play. Fellow sophomores Ale Kaho and Jaylen Moody also saw minimal defensive reps last season, with most of their opportunities coming on special teams.
Two true freshmen could see opportunities with McMillon out, including early enrollee Shane Lee and summer addition Christian Harris. Lee impressed during spring practice and even led the Crimson/second-team defense with eight tackles and an interception of backup quarterback Mac Jones during the A-Day spring game.
With McMillon unavailable, don’t be surprised if the coaching staff does some moving within the linebacker corps. That could include potentially bringing redshirt junior Ben Davis back into the fold at inside linebacker.
Davis, the former five-star Gordo product who was the nation’s No. 1 inside linebacker in the 2016 recruiting class, hasn’t seen much of the field through his first four seasons but has seemingly developed enough to earn quality second-team reps at outside linebacker this preseason.
Given a similar lack of depth at outside linebacker following the prepreseason departure of Eyabi Anoma to Houston, the defense could be forced to simply rely on its youth on the inside and hope the trial-by-fire, early-season experience during a soft non-conference slate helps it develop quickly enough to make an impact once SEC play begins.
“For me, I feel like that's why we preach to the guys to stay ready, you never know what could happen,” redshirt junior outside linebacker Terrell Lewis said Monday. “Because you might not see it right now, like, 'Oh I'm not going to be playing, or I'm not starting,' but you can't look at it like that. Be prepared because one day you might just get thrown in the fire."