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Alabama football: Five names that must emerge on defense next season

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

TUSCALOOSA, Ala.– Alabama’s defense had the liberty of inflicting pain upon opposition throughout the last two seasons. Under the eyes of head coach Nick Saban, defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt coached his unit to 106 sacks, 56 turnovers and 15 touchdowns (10 interceptions, five fumble returns) during 2015 and 2016.

After winning back-to-back Southeastern Conference championships and picking up a College Football Playoff national title in 2015, the Crimson Tide finds itself in a situation where it needs young talent to rise on defense.

With Jonathan Allen, Reuben Foster, Tim Williams, Ryan Anderson, Dalvin Tomlinson, Marlon Humphrey and Eddie Jackson all in the National Football League, yours truly of Touchdown Alabama Magazine lays out the five most important names for next season.

5. Trevon Diggs|SOPH|CB

It’s not easy to transition from wide receiver to defensive back. Just ask Cyrus Jones.

The former Alabama cornerback turn New England Patriot had a tough time adjusting to the role, but when he got comfortable, Jones became one of the Tide’s most seasoned veterans. This very same message can be stated for fellow Maryland native and four-star athlete, Trevon Diggs.

Picking up from his high school roots, Diggs lined up both receiver and defensive back last season as a true freshman. He recorded 11 catches for 88 receiving yards and a touchdown on offense, while totaling five tackles and a forced fumble on defense. Unlike Jones, Diggs carries exceptional height for a corner at 6-foot-1 and possesses the ability to locate the football.

Sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts picked on him quite a bit on A-Day, including two deep ball completions to wide receiver Robert Foster. Diggs’ resilency led him to two tackles and one of four interceptions that occurred during the spring game. Per sources, Diggs is at the level of being able to start right away in the secondary. The interesting thing with that is having Diggs at corner would automatically keep Minkah Fitzpatrick at safety: a spot he filled in at a season ago for the injured Eddie Jackson.

4. Tony Brown|SR|DB

He has endured his lumps and bumps off the field, but one cannot deny the talent that is Tony Brown when he is in perfect phase. The native Texan and five-star recruit was strictly business, upon his return from a four-game suspension to start the 2016 season. He would go on to register 32 tackles – including 2.5 for loss and half a sack. Brown intercepted two passes in conference play, with one coming off the arm of Florida quarterback Austin Appleby in the SEC title game.

With opportunities to improve his draft stock and show his tendencies as an all-around player, Brown expects to earn the starting nod at Star in Alabama’s nickel and dime defense. Seeing him lay hits on receivers and running backs should not be a surprise; however, being under control and not allowing his emotions to get ahead of him will be pivotal for Brown.

3. Terrell Hall|SOPH|OLB

Christian Miller, Anfernee Jennings and Rashaan Evans all can fit this spot at outside linebacker; nevertheless, there is something special about Terrell Hall. Even before his performance at the spring game – 60-yard pick-six – yours truly has been documenting Hall at every Tide practice.

Listed at 6-foot-5 and 251 pounds, the sophomore has the size, speed and overall capabilities to produce eight to 10 sacks in the upcoming fall. What made Alabama’s defensive front so great in 2015 and 2016 was having multiple players record double-digit numbers in sacks. Hall may not get to the 10 mark, but if he can reach eight sacks, it will trigger a positive domino effect.

2. Isaiah Buggs|JR|DE

Redshirt freshman defensive end Quinnen Williams is up and coming, but Isaiah Buggs is ready to produce now. He filled a major need in recruiting on the defensive end, following a successful junior college career at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. Buggs racked up 134 total tackles, including 18 for loss and 7.5 sacks in two years. The 6-foot-5, 292-pound transfer is expected to line up at defensive end opposite Da’Shawn Hand (senior) in the upcoming fall.

Although he had three tackles on A-Day, Nick Saban wants to see Buggs continue showing toughness against the run – as well as affecting the quarterback while he’s in the pocket.

1. Shaun Dion Hamilton|SR|ILB

He and Rashaan Evans will share some inside duties, but this is Shaun Dion Hamilton’s team.

The Montgomery, Ala., native carries a personality similar to ex-Tide standout and 2013 Butkus Award winner, C.J. Mosley. Hamilton quietly goes about his business at inside linebacker, yet he tends to always be effective.

He emerged as a fine tackler in 2016, accounting for 64 total stops, nine tackles for loss and two sacks.

Hamilton picked off two passes, including one in the SEC Championship Game off Gators’ quarterback Austin Appleby at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Despite sustaining a knee injury, Hamilton has been cleared for all football activities. He recently marched with his bachelor’s degree from the University of Alabama during its spring commencement, earning the accomplishment in three years.

Stephen M. Smith is a managing editor and senior writer for Touchdown Alabama Magazine.  You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @Smsmith_TDALMag.

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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