Alabama football has found its next Will Anderson Jr.

12/26/22 MFB Sugar Bowl day 1 Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban Photo by Kent Gidley

By WVUA 23 Digital Reporter Sam Thornton

TUSCALOOSA-After flipping his original commitment from Notre Dame to Alabama in December, incoming freshman linebacker Keon Keeley is looking to leave behind a legacy built in Tuscaloosa. The No. 1 ranked edge rusher in the 2023 class shared on his Instagram story this weekend that he’d be repping No. 31 in the fall, the number formally worn by All-American linebacker Will Anderson Jr.

The No. 3 overall selection by the Houston Texans in this years NFL draft was also the top ranked edge rusher in 2020, prompting a hopeful predecessor under head coach Nick Saban.

Alabama’s linebacker room is stacked with talent this season highlighted by the veteran edge duo of junior Dallas Turner and senior Chris Braswell. Even with the experienced duo expected to wreck havoc in pass pressures, we will get a valid glimpse of Keeley playing behind them on the current depth chart.

There’s a chance that we can see Keeley on the field as a starter if Alabama decides to re-establish the three man cheetah package. The defensive formation that includes three pass rushers was frequently incorporated last season under former defensive coordinator Pete Golding. The previous cheetah package of Anderson, Turner and Braswell was deemed the most dangerous pass rush trio in the country according to CFB Film Room.

Under newly appointed defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, it will be tempting for him to run it back if significant development is seen within Keely’s play early on in camp. The cheetah package was necessary last year with the role Braswell brought to the table as a junior. It was time to let his presence be felt on the field after waiting patiently, and it paid off with three sacks and 13 assisted tackles in the pass rush.

The question will be if Keeley can leave the Alabama staff with no choice but to place him on the field. At the end of the day, it would be wasteful to not play someone if they can contribute to Alabama’s fear factor.

Anderson earned a starting role at jack linebacker in his freshman season with the Tide, finishing third in the SEC in sacks with seven. With all of the hype and similar characteristics surrounding Keeley, nobody is saying he can’t do the same. Even if Keeley sees valuable second team reps behind Turner and Braswell, his flashes will show in other scenarios Steele can place him in throughout the course of the season.

Keeley’s attributes on the field of patience, speed and power has drawn comparisons to former Ohio State and current NFL star Chase Young. Along with his physical ability, Keeley presents a highly valued mentality of balance in the game like Anderson did.

“I like to be me, friendly and nice to those around me. But on the field, I’m coming to work. I’m going to play hard and win games. Whatever the team needs me to do, that’s what I’ll do. I want to win, win, win, win,” Keeley told On3 Sports.

That competitive nature and hunger for improvement was one of the main reasons Keeley decided to play under Saban.

“One thing that I noticed is if I would question myself like, am I going as hard as I can on this play? I would be comparing myself to an Alabama football player,” Keeley said.

The rare combination of drive and talent that Keeley possesses is bound to make an impression as early as the first week of summer camp. Similarities in skillset, leadership, and overall media hype of Keeley makes it seem that it’s only right he’ll be wearing No. 31 in the fall to carry the torch of Anderson’s legacy.

Saban said Tuesday at the annual SEC conference in Destin, Florida, that Alabama football players arrived on campus Tuesday and began workouts Wednesday.

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