Sitting and biding his time behind some terrific players in front of him is something Reuben Foster had to learn to do playing at Alabama. However, that did not stop him from making his presence felt out on the field on Saturday afternoons — letting people know that he was not far behind.
In his first couple of seasons, Foster made an impact — and a name for himself — on the Crimson Tide’s special teams units as one of its fierce hitters. Not until his junior season (2015) did Foster see regular action on defense, and he responded with 73 tackles (good for second on the team) and seven passes defensed. In 2016, Foster mans the middle of the Alabama defense, taking over the mantle from Reggie Ragland.
Foster, a former five-star prospect and the nation’s consensus top-ranked inside linebacker out of high school, prepared for his senior season by trimming his weight down from 240 pounds to around the 225-230 range. He felt that the weight loss would help him get quicker and faster, allowing him to be more explosive, and after three games so far Foster has been exactly that.
Foster is a highly aggressive, athletic, big-hitting middle linebacker who looks to finish his tackles by running through the ball carrier. He’s physical at the point-of-contact and able to take on lead blockers and stack them at the line of scrimmage. He demonstrates the ability to quickly locate the football, and quickly flow to the ball carrier delivering a big hit.
With the added quickness he can now make tackles sideline-to-sideline, and is able to avoid blockers on the run, while also taking good angles to the ball.
Foster is very comfortable dropping into coverage with the ability to quickly change directions and mirror tight ends, or receivers crossing the middle of the field. He is able to open his hips and cover down the seam, or quickly click his heels and come downhill to tackle anything caught in front of him.
While the weight loss appears to be working out well so far, down the road there may be concerns on how a 225 pound inside linebacker might hold-up playing in the NFL. Which is why Foster may need to transition to an outside position like weak-side backer, or possibly even a hybrid safety/linebacker spot which has become more popular in the NFL the last couple of seasons.
One area where Foster will need to get better at is shedding blockers once they have gotten their hands on him. He has a tendency to get attached if he is unsuccessful in beating the lineman (with his speed) to a spot. If his intentions are to play inside the tackle box, he will need to improve at stacking and shedding.
Foster also doesn’t offer much as a blitzer when sent to apply pressure on quarterbacks. He often times would get tangled up in the middle of the scrum at the line of scrimmage or simply washed out of the play. While he does show the ability to knock-back a lineman with a strong punch — when converting speed to power — on his bull rushes he simply does not get through to the passer as often as preferred. As a matter of fact, he appears to be better on run blitzes than he is when sent on passing downs.
Foster enters 2016 a changed player.
He no longer has Trey DePriest or a SEC Defensive Player of the Year like Ragland in front of him on the depth chart, stealing defensive snaps away from him. Instead he is the clear starter at middle linebacker for yet another stout Alabama defensive unit.
He has gone from a thick 240-pound, stout at the line of scrimmage linebacker, to a sleeker 225-pound tackling machine, who with added quickness and speed, is now a sideline-to-sideline playmaker capable of developing into a three-down defensive mainstay at the NFL level.
While it may have taken sometime for Foster to get onto the field on a regular basis, he could prove to be a better pro than some of his Crimson Tide predecessors.