Offense wins games, but defense wins championships. For Alabama, the goal to reclaim its position as the best defense in college football starts in spring practice.
Last season, the Crimson Tide finished fourth in the nation in scoring defense. It won’t be easy replacing leaders like CJ Mosley and Adrian Hubbard, but with the talent Alabama has returning it will be interesting to see which players will emerge.
As a senior, Trey DePriest will be viewed as the leader at linebacker. At 6’2” 245 pounds, DePriest is a natural run stopper who can rush the quarterback. He finished third on the team in tackles last season with 65 and totaled two sacks. DePriest does a great job of recognizing where the ball is going and which gap to hit.
Denzel Devall proved to be a pleasant surprise for Alabama in 2013. In 13 games, he recorded 30 tackles and three sacks. When you watch Devall on film, his athleticism immediately gets your attention. Despite his size, Devall has a motor that never stop running. He can make tackles in space, lay the wood on a running back and create pressure on the quarterback.
Reuben Foster and Reggie Ragland both have a year of experience under their belt. Ragland totaled 17 tackles in 13 games. Foster appeared in nine games and put in 12 tackles. Both players have the size and potential to be important pieces under Saban, but the question is will both Foster and Ragland take the next step forward?
Xzavier Dickson is a versatile player. Weighing in at 6’3” 265 pounds, Dickson can play at defensive end or linebacker. With the depth Alabama has brought in on the defensive line, Dickson may end up permanently at linebacker next season. In 12 games, Dickson had 13 tackles and a sack last season. Unlike DePriest, Dickson is a natural pass rusher. He possesses the ability to explode off the ball and display pass rush moves that aggravate offenses.
Dillon Lee is a player that the coaching staff and fans are very high on. Not too many players have that “It” factor, but Lee is has it. He has the mindset of an old school, smash mouth linebacker. Regardless of the multiple spots he may be used in, Saban may start Lee at either middle or strong side linebacker next season. Last season, he recorded 17 tackles and a fumble recovery.
To add more fuel to the fire, Alabama’s 2014 recruiting class places four linebackers in the heat of the battle. Rashaan Evans, Christian Miller, Shaun Dion Hamilton and Keith Holcombe are all athletic linebackers who want to make plays on the field. As spring practice continues moving forward, Tide fans will have a chance to see which recruit will earn a spot on the field.
Fan Favorite for MLB: Trey DePriest
Battle for Starting SLB: Dillon Lee, Reggie Ragland and Xzavier Dickson
Battle for Starting WLB: Reuben Foster and Denzel Devall
Having Bo Wallace and Dak Prescott as the most experienced passers in the SEC West shouldn’t strike much fear in Alabama’s secondary.
With Landon Collins returning to the fold, he has the daunting task of getting everyone focus on the field next season. He finished second on the team in tackles in 2013 with 70 and recorded two interceptions. Collins displays exceptional ball skills and does a great job of tackling in space.
Jarrick Williams and Geno Smith will join Collins at safety next season. Last season, Williams recorded 40 tackles and a sack. Despite fans seeing little of Smith, he did manage to notch 10 tackles. While both players are physical with receivers, Smith is more of a hard hitter than Williams is. Williams’s strength lies in his ability to play the ball well.
Tuscaloosa will return Eddie Jackson and Bradley Sylve dawning crimson and white next season. Like Devall, Jackson showed he could be a productive contributor for Alabama last season. He had 19 tackles and an interception in 2013. Sylve recorded 10 tackles in eight appearances last season.
After being converted to a defensive back, the future for Cyrus Jones looked promising last season. He totaled 25 tackles, two interceptions and a sack in 2013.
Like the linebackers, the Tide’s recruiting class bolts three players who are hungry for a starting position in the secondary. Tony Brown, Marlon Humphrey and Laurence Jones aren’t afraid of competition. Brown and Humphrey are both five-star prospects that have size and athleticism. These three will fight just as hard as the starters to earn a spot in the secondary.
Fan Favorite for Starting DB: Landon Collins
Battle for Starting FS: Geno Smith, Jarrick Williams and Laurence Jones
Battle for Starting CB: Eddie Jackson, Bradley Sylve, Cyrus Jones, Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey
Like Lane Kiffin, Kirby Smart has a lot of talent to work with. He has budding potential with the linebackers and defensive backs. The first rule in preparing for no-huddle offenses is to make sure that your linebackers and defensive backs are reading the play. In spring practice and summer camp, Smart will stress the issue of how important it is to pay attention to detail.
In conclusion, Alabama has the pieces on defense to help them return to form next season. As long as the players keep the hunger and intensity burning, there should be no reason why the Tide shouldn’t have the No. 1 defense in 2014.