It wasn’t dominant, but Alabama’s pass rush improved in 2014. Its defense totaled 32 sacks, after posting 22 in 2013. Three former players will represent Alabama’s defense in the 2015 NFL scouting combine, including outside linebacker Xzavier Dickson.
Dickson had a bounce back season in 2014, recording 42 tackles in 14 games. He accounted for 10 quarterback hurries, two pass breakups, 12.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks (led the team).
Alabama returns four players in 2015 that could fill the hole Dickson leaves behind. Ryan Anderson, Rashaan Evans, Denzel Devall and Dillon Lee all are capable of creating havoc in the backfield.
Anderson emerged as an unsung hero for Alabama as a sophomore. He recorded 25 tackles, three sacks, nine quarterback hurries and a fumble recovery in 14 games. His performance was clutch against Arkansas, totaling three stops, a fumble recovery and a sack. Anderson led the team in tackles against Texas A&M (6). Alabama held the Aggies to 31 rushing yards, capturing a 59-0 victory.
Responsibility is Anderson’s lone problem. If he stays on the good side of Alabama’s head coach Nick Saban, then Anderson will have a chance to be special next season.
Alabama fans await the breakout of rising sophomore Rashaan Evans. He was a coveted athlete in Auburn’s backyard, yet Evans wasted no time in decision to come to Alabama. He accelerates well off the edge, and has the potential to be great if he learns to wrap up. Evans accounted for 15 tackles, three quarterback hurries and a sack in 13 games during the 2014 season.
Denzel Devall and Dillon Lee both battled injuries in 2014. Devall suffered a high ankle sprain against Ole Miss, limiting him to eight appearances. He had 11 stops and two quarterback hurries. Lee hurt his leg against LSU and Mississippi State. He saw action in 14 games, but totaled 24 tackles.
Dickson, at 6-foot-3 and 268 pounds, displayed speed as an edge rusher and was solid in run support. Prior to facing Alabama, Arkansas averaged 316.8 yards rushing per game. The Crimson Tide held the Razorbacks to 89 rushing yards, netting 2.3 yards per carry. Dickson totaled eight tackles and a sack.
Missouri entered the 2014 Southeastern Conference Championship Game averaging 176.0 yards rushing. Alabama’s defense held it to 41 yards on 1.8 yards per carry. Dickson chimed in with two solo stops.
He put in solid performances against Tennessee and Auburn. Dickson collected four tackles and a sack against Tennessee. Alabama held Auburn’s running back Cameron Artis-Payne to 3.1 yards per carry and quarterback Nick Marshall to 3.8 yards per carry. Dickson had two stops and a sack.
It hurts to lose, yet Dickson’s finest games occurred with Alabama at its lowest point. Crimson Tide fans witnessed Dickson remain vigilant, even after Kenyan Drake, Ryan Kelly and Denzel Devall all went down against Ole Miss. He registered six tackles and two sacks in Mississippi’s 23-17 victory.
Dickson was ruthless in his pursuit of Ohio State’s quarterback Cardale Jones. He totaled five solo stops, two tackles for loss and two sacks. Alabama fell to Ohio State in the 2015 Sugar Bowl, 42-35.
Alabama’s hire of Tosh Lupoi as its outside linebackers coach was huge. He looks to get maximum effort from Rashaan Evans, Ryan Anderson, Denzel Devall and Dillon Lee. Rising sophomore Keith Holcombe may be added to the list. A former four-star prospect, Holcombe wreaked havoc as an outside linebacker at Hillcrest High School in Tuscaloosa, Ala.