On offense, the quarterback position is unanimously coined as the job that provides the most interest to players, but requires a lot of hard work. Defensively, while many suggest the defense end position or the middle linebacker position is the toughest job on the field that is not always the case. In college football, especially in the Southeastern Conference, the toughest position to play lies in the secondary (cornerback and safety).
Defensive ends have it made for the most part. Their main job is to contain the outside and force plays back up the middle so the linebackers can make the tackle. For linebackers, their job is to read the offensive line and study their motions and movements. This helps them pick up on whether the play will be a pass or a run.
Though the SEC has brought in some highly-touted strong armed quarterbacks, the conference is predicated on running the football. With that being said, linebackers are more prone to look for the run, shoot the gap and attack the running backs.
Defensive backs have many things to focus on. They constantly have to watch the quarterback’s eyes and anticipate quickly on where he is going with the football. With more talented receivers being recruited, defensive backs must be mindful of how to guard them. If a receiver has good speed, great hands and can get to the inside, the defensive backs has to be in position to read it instantly, beat the receiver to the inside and either knock the ball down or intercept it.
If he is guarding a tall, physical receiver, he has to take away the inside move and force him to the outside. This causes the sideline to play as a defender to the receiver along with the defensive back. The job for a defensive back doesn’t stop in the air, there are some situations where a cornerback or a safety will have to step down and defend the run. The secondary is the last of defense; it’s their sole responsibility to protect the end-zone. To succeed in Nick Saban’s system at Alabama, a defense back must do two things exceptionally well: make a tackle and not get beat deep.
While most coaches in college football are content with a basic, standard 3-4 defense, coach Saban likes to think outside the box. For six years, he has taken a simple package (nickel and dime) and has formulated the most complex defense for the Crimson Tide that has confused opposing teams.
The money and star positions that Saban has brought in defensively at Alabama, originated from 1991-94 when he was a defense coordinator for the Cleveland Browns under head coach Bill Belichick. In the traditional nickel defense, there are five defensive backs and the fifth one is the nickelback.
According to Saban, before he went to Cleveland, he never played six defensive backs. He kept the middle and weak side linebackers in the game and replaced strong outside linebacker with a defensive back. If a team had four wide receivers on the field and a linebacker couldn’t cover one, he would be replaced by a defensive back. The monetary terms for the positions was an aspect of coach Belichick, but to Saban the defense is the same and all he wants from his defensive backs is to play the position well.
For the Alabama Crimson Tide, they have improved greatly in pass defense since Saban’s arrival. With players like Rashad Johnson, Kareem Jackson, Javier Arenas, Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick, Dee Milliner and so on, there is no question why Alabama’s secondary was ranked among the best in the SEC and the nation in pass defense. Here are the numbers for the Crimson Tide secondary and where they placed in the SEC and the nation in pass defense from 2007 to present.
ALABAMA PASS DEFENSE STATS
· DEFENSIVE YEAR: 2007
o Percentage of passes completed: 53.6 percent
o Passing Yards Allowed (Season): 2,555 yards
o Passing Yards Allowed (Game): 212.9 yards
o Touchdown Passes Allowed: 17
o Interception: 19
o First Downs Allowed: 104
o SEC Rank: 3rd
o National Rank: 12th
o Leaders on defense: Simeon Castile (Cornerback), Marcus Carter (Safety) and Ramzee Robinson (Cornerback)
· DEFENSIVE YEAR: 2008
o Percentage of passes completed: 51.4 percent
o Passing Yards Allowed (Season): 2,315 yards
o Passing Yards Allowed (Game) 178.1 yards
o Passing Touchdowns Allowed: 15
o Interceptions: 15
o First Downs Allowed: 103
o SEC Rank: 1st
o National Rank: Tied for 5th
o Leaders on defense: Rashad Johnson, Kareem Jackson and Javier Arenas
· DEFENSIVE YEAR: 2009
o Percentage of passes completed: 47.4 percent
o Passing Yards Allowed (Season): 2,129 yards
o Passing Yards Allowed (Game): 163.8 yards
o Passing Touchdowns Allowed: 9
o Interceptions: 24
o First Downs Allowed: 96
o SEC Rank: 1st
o National Rank: 3rd
o Leaders on defense: Javier Arenas, Kareem Jackson, Justin Woddall, Marquis Johnson
· DEFENSIVE YEAR: 2010
o Percentage of passes completed: 52.7 percent
o Passing Yards Allowed (Season): 2,072 yards
o Passing Yards Allowed (Game): 172.7 yards
o Passing Touchdowns Allowed: 11
o Interceptions: 21
o First Downs Allowed: 91
o SEC Rank: 1st
o National Rank: 7th
o Leaders on defense: Dre Kirkpatrick, Robert Lester, Mark Barron and Dee Milliner
· DEFENSIVE YEAR: 2011
o Percentage of passes completed: 48.3 percent
o Passing Yards Allowed (Season): 1,396 yards
o Passing Yards Allowed (Game): 116.3 yards
o Passing Touchdowns Allowed: 6
o Interceptions: 13
o First Downs Allowed: 62
o SEC Rank: 1st
o National Ranks: 1st
o Leaders on defense: Dre Kirkpatrick, Robert Lester, Mark Barron, Dee Milliner and DeQuan Menzie
· DEFENSIVE YEAR: 2012
o Percentage of passes completed: 54.3 percent
o Passing Yards Allowed (Season): 2,161 yards
o Passing Yards Allowed (Game): 166.2 yards
o Passing Touchdowns Allowed: 7
o Interceptions: 19
o First Downs Allowed: 92
o SEC Rank: 4th
o National Ranks: Tied for 10th
o Leaders on defense: Robert Lester, Mark Barron, Dee Milliner, Vinny Sunseri and Ha’Ha Clinton-Dix
This upcoming will be different for the Crimson Tide. They will not have a Rashad Lewis, Kareem Jackson, Mark Barron, Robert Lester or Dee Milliner. It is time for someone new to step up and take the reigns as the leader of the secondary for Saban’s money and star system. Thus far, it seems as if the ideal candidate may be either Clinton-Dix or Sunseri. However, don’t count Landon Collins, Deion Bleue, or John Fulton out of the conversation either. It will be a competition from summer camp to the first game of the season to see who will get the nod, but the only thing Saban and the Alabama fans are concerned about is having a defensive that is going to work together, not get complacent and play well in the 2013 season.