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Alabama football will have one of the toughest schedules nationally this fall.

Its head coach, Nick Saban, will face four defensive-minded individuals in 2015, including two that were on his staff at LSU and Alabama. Schematically, all four coaches will look to make life difficult for the Crimson Tide, however they will be a part of a new regime.

John Chavis, Will Muschamp, Kevin Steele and Ed Oregeron all will wear a new uniform.

Texas A&M lured Chavis away from Louisiana, in hopes that he can change the Aggies culture on defense. He placed 27 individuals from LSU in the NFL Draft in six seasons (2009-14).

Chavis’s style on defense is consistent pressure and tight coverage.

He wants to mix up different blitz packages and play solid coverage behind it. Since entering the Southeastern Conference in 2012, Texas A&M’s defense has been dismal against the run. The Aggies allowed 5.4 yards per carry, resulting in 2,890 rushing yards with 23 touchdowns in 2013. Opponents’ pounded Texas A&M last season for 2,808 rushing yards and 23 scores.

It returns Myles Garrett, Alonzo Williams and Julien Obioha to its defensive front.

Garret, a 6-foot-5, 255-pound sophomore, totaled 53 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks in 2014. Williams and Obioha both return as seniors. Williams put in 57 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. Obioha recorded 47 tackles, five tackles for loss and a sack.

Sophomore safety Armani Watts finished fourth on the team in tackles last season (59).

He led Texas A&M’s defense in interceptions with three, and he along with senior cornerbacks De’Vante Harris and Brandon Williams should benefit from Chavis’s aggressive play calling.

The Florida Gators grew tired of Will Muschamp after a 7-5 finish last season.

Its loss has become Auburn’s gain, as Muschamp returns to the plains for a second stint with the Tigers (2006-07). Muschamp has guided numerous players to the NFL Draft from Texas, Florida and LSU. He was a member on Saban’s staff at LSU as a defensive coordinator and linebackers coach from 2001-04. The Tigers led the nation in scoring defense (11.0 points per game) and total defense (252.0 yards per game) in 2003. LSU won a national title that year.

Muschamp, like Chavis, enjoys being aggressive in his play calling, however, Muschamp is more so tailored to inside linebackers and defensive backs. Auburn, like Texas A&M, has been suspect against the run in the last three seasons.

It’s given up a little over four yards per carry, and has allowed at least 20 rushing touchdowns since 2012. Opponents’ averaged 4.45 yards per carry last season, totaling 2,194 rushing yards with 22 touchdowns against Auburn’s defense.

Its secondary was porous in 2012, allowing opposing quarterbacks to accumulate a 145.72 passer rating. The Tigers gave up 2,675 passing yards with 20 touchdowns.

Auburn has improved some in its back five, yet there are times when it’s still susceptible.

It will look for Montravius Adams, Carl Lawson and DaVonte Lambert to stop the run.

Adams, a junior, has to be consistent on the front line this season. He put in 43 tackles, eight tackles for loss and three sacks in 2014, however, he tends to disappear in prime time games.

Lawson, a junior, was tabbed to be Dee Ford’s heir apparent as a pass rushing defensive end, but a knee injury in spring practice last season negated field time from him. He chimed in with 20 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and two sacks as a freshman in 2013. Lawson’s production will be pivotal for Auburn’s success on defense in 2015. He has the potential to be special.

Lambert, a senior, has been solid for Auburn since transferring from Georgia Military College in 2013. He tied for the team lead in sacks last season with 3.5. Lambert accounted for 24 tackles, including seven tackles for loss. All three guys have to set a tone on defense.

Senior cornerbacks Jonathan Jones and Joshua Holsey must emerge as leaders. Holsey tailed 41 tackles last season, but Jones was leader in the clubhouse in takeaways with six interceptions. Former Alabama outside linebackers coach and recruiter Lance Thompson joins Muschamp at Auburn. Thompson is a solid recruiter and a blue-collar coach.

Kevin Steele moves from Alabama to LSU as a defensive coordinator.

He spent four seasons with the Crimson Tide as a defensive coordinator, linebackers coach and director of player personnel (2007-08, 2013-14), prior to taking a position at Clemson.

The Tigers rush defense was tolerable in Steele’s first two seasons (2008-09), allowing under four yards per carry. Clemson’s secondary put in solid numbers in both seasons.

Opposing quarterbacks had a passer rating of 110.93 (2008) and 116.21 (2009).

It forced 36 total interceptions in both seasons combined. The Tigers next two years under Steele spelled trouble. Opponents’ rushed for 2,476 yards with 21 touchdowns against Clemson 2011. Its secondary gave up 3,045 passing yards and 26 touchdowns.

Clemson allowed 24.8 points per game in 2012.

It will take at least two years for Steele and defensive line coach Ed Oregeron to get fully acclimated into LSU, but in time the Tigers defensive will be potent. LSU returns Davon Godchaux, Christian LaCouture and Kendell Beckwith to its defensive front seven.

Godchaux, a sophomore, was an important contributor on LSU’s defense last season.

He collected 42 tackles with 1.5 stops for loss at defensive tackle. He stands at 6-foot-4, 298 pounds, and draws a double-team every time he comes off the ball.

LaCouture, a senior, finished second on the team in sacks with 2.5 last season.

He put in 40 tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss. LaCouture, 6-foot-5, 300 pounds, is a load inside that is dominant against the run and is developing as a pass rusher.

Beckwith, a junior, continues the lineage of hard-hitting linebackers at LSU.

He accounted for 77 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception in 2014. He’s an enforcer against the run, and an exceptional pass rusher. Coverage skills will be an area of improvement for Beckwith. He can be susceptible to screen passes and slant routes.

Tre’Davious White, Jalen Mills and Rickey Jefferson all return to LSU’s secondary.

Jefferson and White both tied for the team lead in interceptions with two last season. Mills, who led the trio in tackles, finished seventh overall in the department with 62 stops in 2014.


Stephen M. Smith is a staff writer and columnist for Touchdown Alabama Magazine, Pick Six Previews and SB Nation. You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via ESPN_Future.

Stephen Smith is a 2015 graduate of the University of Alabama. He is a senior writer and reporter for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. He has covered Alabama football for 10+ years and his knowledge and coverage of the Crimson Tide's program have made him among the most respected journalist in his field. Smith has been featured on ESPN and several other marquee outlets as an analyst.

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