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Alabama Football: Likely Starting Lineup on Defense

With the Crimson Tide, it all starts on defense and this defense is one you can build a team around.  

Alabama Football: Likely Starting Lineup on Defense

By: Larry Burton

At Alabama, football is the body of what they’re known for and the heartbeat of that body has always been the defense that they play. This year Alabama will start the season with a new signal caller on offense and once again, the defense will be expected to carry the team until the offense starts humming.

Much has been made in previous articles from writers in every avenue of college football about the depth of quality on this Alabama team overall, especially with the linebacker and defensive linemen on defense. But even the most ardent Alabama fan has worries about the defensive secondary this season and while that worry is not without merit, there are some reasons to be hopeful and on that note, let’s begin there.

Eddie Jackson won’t start the season at corner and he was full of promise as a shut down corner. But Coach Saban has always promoted the idea of “Opportunities”. Jackson’s injury has created an opportunity for another player and since I’ve never been opposed to taking an early season stand, and modestly  stating that I’ve never been wrong, in stating my winners of position battles, you can expect Bradley Sylve will win his battle over Tony Brown for one reason, speed. Well, speed and a good understanding of the position after a year of studying it as a part time player.

Bradley Sylve has been a firecracker just waiting to be lit. He may very well be the fastest man on the team and in the world of defensive secondary players, there’s little else that trumps speed. There’s little evidence that anyone Sylve faces on opposing offenses will have the ability to be faster and that means that Sylve will have that little extra in closing speed, even should he be temporarily behind or misread a route. Tony Brown should be an able backup and play in nickle defense and early on, should push Sylve to be even better.

For the other corner, look for Cyrus Jones to improve after getting a lot of playing time last season and a couple of interceptions. There were times last season when Jones both looked every bit the part of a cornerback filling his potential and in other plays, looking out of place and confused. Granted, Saban’s defensive backfield schemes are difficult to quickly pick up, but with both Sylve and Jones having a year under their belt, they should both finally firmly entrenched and comfortable in the system.

Behind them, a host of young gun players of the future will be learning and getting some time here and there and on special teams. Maurice Smith and Anthony Averett have a lot of promise, but lack a lot knowledge. Should one of the starters go down, Tony Brown will be first replacement and these others will be pushed into service after that and Marlon Humphries is too good to sit on the bench very long without getting some playing time and he is just one of the youngsters that will push the veterans.

I actually think that they’ll do much better this year and that the cornerback position won’t be the big liability everyone fears.

At safety, Landon Collins returns and will build on a career that is already pretty darn bright. Not only is his play good, but he’s taken on the characteristics and mannerisms of becoming the leader in the secondary. Consider this position one of the better ones on the team and you won’t be disappointed. Behind him, an experienced Nick Perry is an able backup and gives the Tide a little cushion should an injury occur with Collins.

At the other safety, Jarrick Williams will end up with the job, but Geno Smith could ably fill that slot as well. Williams and Smith both are young and full of promise and both could have highlight film in any given game. While the cornerback position may have fans nervous, safety is a position that all Alabama fans can fill very comfortable with.

Now, up front is the strength of the defense. Even though I’m going to describe the starting lineup in the 3-4 scheme, I expect that once Alabama starts facing mobile quarterbacks mid-season, the defense will start moving more toward a 4-3 to put more pressure on the quarterback and cut more running lanes from them.

At nose guard, Brandon Ivory has the spot locked down, but may miss some time due to a recent “violation of team rules”. But once he’s returned, he should more that aptly be a great nose guard. Behind Ivory is Darren Lake, a very solid player in his own right and behind him are two youngsters who have the build to fill in and make some plays while learning the position, so you can consider this position solid as a concrete wall.

At defensive tackles, Alabama has enough talent to fill two full teams with backups. This year the defensive ends role will change a little bit. In seasons past, Saban was content to have the ends worry first about containing a quarterback, than in blindly rushing them. There was a fear that a blind rush might open up a running lane and escape route for a mobile quarterback should the rush miss. This year they’ll be turned loose and you can expect some more sack numbers to be recorded.

At one end, A’Shawn Robinson has star player written all over him. Fans have had some glimpses of it earlier, but this season he’ll be a household name. The good news is that when the do rest him, Jonathan Allen is so good, the team may not miss a beat.

On the other side, I would have thought that Jarran Reed had a good shot to start the season at end, but with his DUI, look for one of two  explosive players to make the most of this “opportunity”. Those players are DJ Pettway and Dalvin Tomlinson. Either of these players could become stars at this position and shows the quality of the depth that we are talking about.

At linebacker, there is a huge depth of talent as well, but the anchor is Trey DePriest who has picked up his play a good bit, but his leadership skills have picked up a ton since last season and for Saban, that’s the best news to come from anything on the defensive front. DePriest will hold down the “Mike” or middle linebacker position and behind him is Reuben Foster.

On the strong side or “Sam” linebacker, Dillon Lee was set to be the starter, but again, the “violation of team rules” monster popped up again and that opened the door for Denzel Duvall to perhaps claim that spot depending on how long Lee stays in the doghouse. Backing them up is a veteran senior, Josh Dickerson.

On the weak side, Reggie Ragland will show All American form this season and showcase his great ability. Behind him, Alabama has no slouches as a host of youngsters including Shaun Hamilton and Keith Holcomb who will get some playing time and start their rich careers this season.

At “Jack” linebacker, Xzavier Dickson starts his fourth season at Alabama and has the smarts, size and speed that Saban likes at Jack. He’ll be utilized both as a blitzer as well as a run stopper. This position is one that won’t allow a lot of mistakes over the course of the whole season and behind him, there will be a battle for the second spot between a host of young players with perhaps the best two being Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams.

So there’s the logic behind Touchdown Alabama’s picks for likely starters on defense and why. If you agree or disagree let us know in the comment section below.

 Larry is an award winning writer whose work has appeared in almost every college football venue. Now he primarily writes for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LBSportswriter

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