It’s unusual for University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban to be highly critical of his defense, especially when the unit tends to demolish every opposition for the viewing public on Saturdays in the fall.
Upon concluding last week’s exhibition, he saw a Crimson Tide offense that could potentially be better than its counterpart. While the quarterback efforts of Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones turned in numerous explosive plays and touchdowns, the defense was unable to create pressure in the passing game.
Even with its ability to stop the run, what made the Tide special during the last two years was having players consistently drop quarterbacks to the ground. The departures of Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams, Reuben Foster, Dalvin Tomlinson and Ryan Anderson hurt because all five combined for 36.5 of Alabama’s 54 sacks, guiding the team to a Southeastern Conference championship and Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl title in the 2016 season.
In focusing on Allen, Williams and Anderson, the trio excelled in one-on-one matchups at the line of scrimmage. Secondary coach Derrick Ansley benefited most from the Tide’s edge rushers, as his defensive backs totaled 16 interceptions – including a team-high six via rising junior Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Having Da’Shawn Hand, Rashaan Evans and Christian Miller all return is good, but emerging names behind these three is the bigger issue. Young players like Terrell Hall, Anfernee Jennings, Raekwon Davis and Quinnen Williams will be forced to step up. The signings of Jamar King (2016) and Isaiah Buggs (2017) from junior college provide depth and experience, yet will it be enough for the Tide to continue its dominant play?
He may have been pleased with the overall effort, but Saban was not happy with the defensive front. Finding elite pass rushers will play a critical role in Alabama’s return to the College Football Playoff next season.