TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley is smaller than Dont'a Hightower and isn't as much of a vocal leader. He's not a fierce pass rusher like Courtney Upshaw or a dominant all-around player like Rolando McClain.
The different style and personality clearly haven't stopped Mosley from becoming the top-ranked Crimson Tide's latest star linebacker.
The junior has emerged from the shadows of those predecessors — all now in the NFL — to become the on-field leader of the nation's top scoring defense. He has been steady enough for the coaches to name him a defensive player of the week five games running.
Defensive end Damion Square raves about Mosley's athleticism.
"C.J. is awesome, man," Square said. "C.J. is one of those guys that I haven't seen before. He has great athletic ability, he escapes a lot of situations that a lot of guys can't escape. And he does things, you know, he just pops up when the ball is thrown to the flats. And he finds the end zone some type of way. Every year he's been here, he finds out how to get to the end zone in big games and big situations. So C.J. is a great player. He got recruited to come here and be a great player and he's living up to it."
Mosley's 39 tackles is two more than he had last season and 15 better than Alabama's No. 2 tackler, fellow linebacker Nico Johnson. He returned an interception for a touchdown in the opener against Michigan, picking up where he left off in the national championship game when he injured his hip on a return of a pick against LSU's Jordan Jefferson.
Mosley returned a pair of interceptions for scores as a freshman.
The 6-foot-2, 232-pound Mosley and Johnson are the veterans of the linebacking corps with Hightower and Upshaw going among the top 35 selections in the NFL draft.
"C.J's a good player for us," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "His greatest asset is his athleticism and his instincts. He can run. He's a good cover guy. He's got really good ball skills. He fits the runs a lot better. He's gotten bigger and stronger so he's better against the run. He's just great when we play nickel. He's very productive.
"He's the most productive player we have on defense right now in terms of production points, because he's such a playmaker. He doesn't say much but if you just match his intensity and match the way he does things, I think his leadership is effective as well."
Teammates say that Mosley is speaking up more and filling some of the leadership void left by Hightower, a two-time team captain who was a first-round pick by the New England Patriots.
"C.J.'s a big person on our defense," cornerback Dee Milliner said. "He knows that, so he just steps up and talks to us and tries to lead by example and by talking. He's just stepping up this year and being more of a vocal leader rather than just trying to lead by example."
Mosley has split time with Johnson much of his career. Johnson's the run-stopper and Mosley excels when the Tide has five defensive backs on the field.
Mosley appears to finally have convinced Saban he's more valuable than just the nickel.
"Well, I've been trying to show it since I got here, so I guess it's starting to wear off on him a little bit," Mosley said, smiling. "So, hopefully, I'll stay on the field more."
He said he's not worried about his streak of player of the week honors ending.
"I'm just trying to stay on the field as much as possible, and when I do I'm just trying to make plays when I can, just to help the team, just to keep the defense going and the team going," Mosley said.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company