Alabama linebacker Mosley thriving as a vocal leader, full-timer
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Trey DePriest has been lining up alongside C.J. Mosley for the past two seasons, but he'd never seen him quite like this.
Alabama's normally mild-mannered All-America linebacker was fired up after a Mississippi lineman pushed him 5 yards downfield and onto his back at the end of a play near the top-ranked Crimson Tide's goal line. His reaction was a highlight of a week when the Tide's top defender took charge with more than his play.
This time, DePriest said, Mosley "turned into a different guy." Two plays later, Mosley swatted away a fourth-down pass headed toward the goal line late in the third quarter to squash the Rebels' comeback hopes.
"It got me excited, it got the whole team fired up," fellow linebacker DePriest said. "He was ready to play, out there screaming, letting everyone know what the play was. It was good."
It's no surprise that Mosley has been the unquestioned leader of the Tide's defense since opting to return for his senior season instead of entering the NFL draft. His fiery, vocal sides are less often on public display.
But when the team needed a jump-start after the Colorado State game two weeks ago, Mosley spoke up in the locker room. And when Alabama's defense needed that fourth-down stop, he stepped in front of the Bo Wallace pass to a well-covered Laquon Treadwell. Mosley later tackled Wallace for a safety.
He has stepped into somewhat new roles for Alabama, which plays Georgia State on Saturday. Mosley has become more outspoken when needed and showed a fiery side after Pierce Burton's block, when a referee had to usher him away from the 290-pound lineman.
"I heard it from a few people because they're not used to seeing me so amped up," Mosley said. "But that's football, probably one of the only things that will get me that hyped."
Coach Nick Saban said Mosley wasn't so comfortable speaking up as a younger player. That role fell more to Nico Johnson, who split time the past three seasons in running situations.
Even though Mosley nearly doubled up the Tide's next-leading tackler last season, he was never the guy in all situations.
"He plays on all downs now," Saban said. "This is the first year since he's been here that he actually plays all downs. He's so athletic that he's always been a really good space player and played really well in any kind of spread-out situation whether it was nickel, dime or whatever.
"He's gotten bigger, and he's a little stronger. A little better taking on blocks now and does a really good job playing in regular. He's so instinctive and so quick, he doesn't have to overpower people. He's a good player in every circumstance and every situation in the game now."
Mosley, the SEC's defensive player of the week after the Ole Miss game, is definitely Saban's kind of player. He was the guy who kept up on Christion Jones' 94-yard kickoff return against Virginia Tech, even throwing the final block at the 10.
Saban praises the athleticism and talent of a linebacker who has returned three interceptions for touchdowns, including one as a freshman against Georgia State.
"But he's also got a lot of true grit in him in terms of the kind of competitor he is and how he plays," he said. "The guy just doesn't know how to take a play off.
"I don't care what your circumstance is or whether he's on special teams or any role that you have for him, he's about as fine a competitor as anybody that we've had an opportunity to coach through the years."
Mosley has 35 tackles, 11 more than No. 2 tackler Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Last season, his 107 tackles were 48 more than anybody else on the team.
Mosley topped even South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and Texas A&M Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel as the leading vote getter on the media's preseason All-SEC team. He's the linchpin of a defense that has allowed just a pair of field goals in the past two games.
"He's the glue," safety Vinnie Sunseri said. "He calls all our calls, he and Trey are up front and having C.J. out there is sort of like having that protective shield. You know if you have C.J. out front you're going to be OK."