TUSCALOOSA, Alabama — Like most freshmen, Reuben Foster was a little lost last August.
A five-star talent with hype to match his skill, there was the reality of Alabama’s complex playbook to learn. C.J. Mosley remembered Foster knocked himself out a few times from hitting so hard in scrimmages.
It didn’t translate into much playing time in meaningful moments. But now Mosley’s in the NFL and returning starter Trey DePriest is a little banged up. That led to increased action with the first unit early in Alabama’s preseason camp for Foster.
And he’s impressing. Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, who coached the middle linebackers last fall, texted Foster after Saturday’s practice.
“You’ve come a long way,” Smart told him. “You still have a ways to go.”
Smart sees the former stud recruit is more comfortable in the huddle this August. His teammates see a refocused Foster who’s developing into the player everyone expected would be a difference maker. Middle linebackers are tasked with making calls and adjustments and Smart sees that improving as well.
“Reuben is more focused this fall,” safety Landon Collins said. “He sees that he has an opportunity and he’s not taking it for granted. He’s taking it to heart and he’s pushing forward and learning the defense as fast as he can. You can see a tremendous change, athletic-wise, and his mental toughness is totally different from last year.”
At 6-foot-1, 244 pounds, Foster is about six pounds heavier than Mosley was last year, but Smart said he’s “maybe a little more explosive.”
“C.J. was a little better in space and a little better athlete when it comes to change in direction,” Smart said. “That’s an area that Reuben is going to have continue to improve on.”
Collins noted Foster’s improvement with his pass coverage skill — a talent Mosley used in all four years at Alabama.
Staying healthy will be another big thing, Smart said. Foster was limited in the spring with a shoulder injury and left the A-Day Game in the first half with an apparent concussion.
“I feel like Reuben is a lot more mature this year,” linebacker Denzel Devall said. “He’s got his head on and he’s more focused. He’s a great player and he’s going to be a great guy for us.”
But he’s still the hardest hitter out there, right?
“I would say so,” a laughing Collins said. “Probably.”