Keith Holcombe fills in at linebackerBy Cody Estremera | 11/15/2017 10:49pm
In Alabama’s opener against Florida State, will linebacker Rashaan Evans went down with a groin injury. Alabama turned to Keith Holcombe, and he delivered.
After Evans’ injury Holcombe came up with a tackle and a pass breakup, but most importantly recovered a fumble late in the third quarter that set up one of Alabama’s two touchdowns on the day.
“I mean we knew we’d be rotating and stuff like that, but if he goes down, the next guy’s got to be ready and that’s how we have to be for the rest of the season,” Holcombe said after Evans’ injury.
Evans has been a huge player for Alabama in his time at Alabama, totaling 108 tackles and 13 sacks. Holcombe had to find a way to replace him, and it started with mike linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton.
“I think it was pretty smooth with me and Shaun,” Holcombe said. “We’ve been playing together for a while, I mean all the way back to the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game. I just thought it was the coolest thing ever getting out there, actually talking to him. Like having, like you said, a second language. But we all just kind of gel, pretty much the entire defense, to be honest, clicked and gelled once we got into a rhythm, and we need to keep that momentum going.”
Since then Holcombe has been a key part of the depleted linebacker core. He is ninth on the team with 36 tackles and leads all linebackers with three pass breakups.
The Tuscaloosa native’s first career start at linebacker came against Fresno State. There he totaled a career high 10 total tackles, three on special teams and seven on defense.
He has been a coach’s player of the week seven times this season, six on special teams and once on defense. The one time on defense came against Colorado State, where he led the team with nine tackles.
“It tells me I’m doing my job,” Holcombe said. “That’s what they throw me out there to do, make calls, get my job done and do whatever I need to do to get my job done and do whatever I have to do to get a win.”
After Hamilton fractured his knee against LSU, Holcombe moved back into the starting lineup and has had to find chemistry with Evans.
"With me and Keith, I feel like we're starting to get a chance to just gel now,” Evans said. “I feel like this game [the win over Mississippi State] was probably the most important for us to just play with each other, learn [from] each other, the different calls we make, how we fit gaps. Kind of like the chemistry [I] had with Shaun Dion. We kind of knew each other, how we kind of fed off each other. And with the fact that he's gone now, me and Keith can really just focus on me and him."
One of the biggest roles that Hamilton filled was being the defensive signal caller. Holcombe is now embracing that role.
“It's just something that I have to take on myself that I have to step up to the plate,” Holcombe said. “Like we've always said about the entire season because injuries have been happening, it's the next man up. If that's me or some younger guys or anybody on our defense, we just have to step up, get comfortable and do our job."’
One way that Holcombe plans to fill that role is by studying more film.
Holcombe has started three games this year, and has averaged just over seven tackles a game. He knows he can fit into the starting lineup, he’s done it before.
"I've done it before,” Holcombe said. “I do whatever the coaches need me to do. And, earlier in the season with Razor [Rashaan Evans] going down, it prepared me to get ready for this. I know I can play, I'm comfortable with the defense and I'm looking forward to the opportunity."