One-third of Alabama’s dominant pass rush trio took the stage Wednesday for player interviews.
Linebacker Ryan Anderson totaled 37 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and six sacks in 2015. He helped set the tone for a unit that led the nation in rush defense (75.7 ypg) and scoring defense (15.1 ppg), during its run to a national championship.
Quarterback race, depth at running back and shifting along the offensive line are three topics that loom large, yet Anderson said it’s Alabama’s defense that is ready to go full pads.
“They’ve [offensive unit] been trying to rough us up in the last two days in helmets and jerseys, so we will see today,” Anderson said Wednesday. “Everybody pretty much knows it’s the first day, everybody is excited to do it and their bodies are well. Everybody is looking forward to hitting somebody.”
Despite his excitement, Anderson still recalls his first gut check moment at Alabama in practice.
“It came my freshman year against Kelly Johnson,”Anderson said. “He played at H-back and it was the first time I ever really got hit.”
After being asked what it felt like, the rising senior and Daphne native gave a candid response.
“S**t it was like welcome to the big boys,” he said. “When he got me, he really got me.”
The Crimson Tide loses A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed, D.J. Pettway and Reggie Ragland to the National Football League, nevertheless, it returns Anderson, Jonathan Allen and Tim Williams. The trio combined for 28.5 of the team’s 52 sacks last season and has an opportunity to be even better this fall, providing everyone buys into returning to a national title game.
“You can have all the pieces to a puzzle, but that doesn’t mean that you will put it together,” Anderson said. “So I feel like everybody that came back has to come to work and help the younger guys get better. We are starting over. We have to find our identity as a new unit.”
Another familiar face that will assist Anderson in guiding the new additions is Reuben Foster. The rising senior avoided the injury bug and emerged in 2015 as an instinctive player.
Foster finished second on the team in tackles (73), while adding eight tackles for loss, a sack, nine pass breakups and three quarterback hurries to his credit.
It is expected for Foster to slide over at middle linebacker for the departing Ragland; however, Anderson said each person on the team has its own style of leadership.
“Reuben has been a leader in his own way since he’s been here,” he said. “He just hasn’t had to do certain stuff behind the scenes, but he is Reuben. He is a leader, everybody respects him and when he speaks, everyone listens. So it shouldn’t be that big of a drop off. He’s good.”
As for his style, Anderson said he leads more by example.
“I am a different type of leader and Jon [Jonathan Allen] is a different type of leader,” he said. “When I want a guy to run to the ball, I want him to run to the ball on every play.”
Spring practice is a time for coaches to check inventory. Alabama coach Nick Saban addressed the media in Monday’s press conference on how spring starts with finding out “which guy can play at what position.” Linebacker Rashaan Evans is one of few guys being experimented in a different role.
He has been taking reps at inside ‘backer’ during practice.
Evans is known for his speed on the edge, but Anderson said he has the physicality and striking abilities to play inside.
“He’s a really tough kid,” Anderson said. “He comes to work everyday like everyone else and when he needs to hit somebody, he hits them.”
Anderson was a top-rated linebacker when he came to Alabama in 2012 and like all five-star prospects, he had to learn how to trust and buy into what Saban calls “The Process.”
“It was a culture shock to me coming here,” Anderson said.
“I had to do things that I was never asked to do before and at first I was real stubborn about it. I was young and it kind of railroaded me a bit. I got in my own way.”
Anderson mentioned that it was two years ago when he started trusting the coaching staff. He is now mentoring younger players on how to be smart both on and off the field.
The 6-foot-2, 253-pound linebacker even had time toward the end of the interview for questions concerning new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. Pruitt’s last season at Alabama came in 2012 during Anderson’s freshman year, prior to spending time at Florida State and Georgia.
“Coach Pruitt brings a different kind of energy,” Anderson said. “He is more of a player’s coach and the guys are willing to sell out for him because he is willing to do it for us.”