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Alabama LB Anfernee Jennings “beyond excited” for this season

Stephen Lew - USA TODAY Sports

Nick Saban was visibly confused, disappointed and frustrated at the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in January.

The embarrassing loss to Clemson bothered him then and it continues to hurt, as the University of Alabama are four sessions into fall practice.  

As troublesome as it was, there is a coach who knows the mind of Saban and the defeat lit a fire in him bigger than the one of the six-time national champion.

In restructuring the coaching staff for a second straight offseason, the 67-year-old decided to return to basics and hire teachers. 

Sal Sunseri, 60, has been everywhere in terms of coaching. 

Whether college or the National Football League, the Pennsylvania native has seen his work in the ground mark of the gridiron game.

He had a great year in 2018 at the University of Florida, as he was hired to coach the defensive line.  

Under Sunseri’s guidance the unit produced 22.5 of the Gators’ 37 sacks (60.8 percent) — including 11 sacks from Jachai Polite, who was selected in the third round of this year’s NFL Draft to the New York Jets. Florida’s defensive line would also collect 46.5 of its 86 tackles for loss – 54.1 percent – with Polite (17.5) and Jabari Zuniga (11.0) both tallying double-digit numbers respectively.

Behind Sunseri, the Gators allowed 20 points a game and were 10-3. 

He was at Alabama once before as assistant head coach/outside linebackers’ coach from 2009 to 2011 and was part of two BCS National Championships. During the beginning of Saban’s quest for championships, Sunseri was about toughness, domination and making teams fear the Tide. 

RELATED: WATCH: Anfernee Jennings excited to have teammates back

He coached the best defense in college football in 2011 (8.2 ppg allowed) and he anticipates this year’s bunch to be just as good. The competitive nature he has is rubbing off on senior edge rusher, Anfernee Jennings. The 6-foot-3, 259-pounder told reporters on Tuesday that he is “beyond excited” for the fall and having Sunseri back was one of the biggest reasons. 

“He’s an OG,” Jennings said of Sunseri.  

“You got to respect Coach Sal. We like to learn from him. He’s hard-nosed, old school and you can’t help but to love that. He’s not the type of coach that’s going to pat you on the back all the time. He’s going to tell you when you mess up, he going to tell you when you are doing good, he’s just going to keep it real with you. For me as a player, that is all you can ask for.” 

The OG pushes Jennings; however, seeing Terrell Lewis and Christopher Allen healthy brings a smile and laughter to him. Jennings and Lewis have both dealt with injuries in their careers, but the two have a connection that is special on a football field. It was first documented in the 2018 CFP title game (2017 season) as the two embraced each other, following a 26-23 win for the Crimson Tide over Georgia.

A serious knee injury versus Clemson kept Jennings from playing in the matchup and after a pivotal sack of Bulldogs’ quarterback Jake Fromm, Lewis confirmed to his bash brother that he had his back and that the moment was for Jennings.  

To see No. 24 with him for one last run gives Jennings goosebumps. 

“Terrell is ready to go. Terrell is ready to ball,” Jennings said of Lewis.  

The trio of Jennings, Lewis and Allen complement each other well. 

Even with Allen being younger than the other two – redshirt sophomore – Jennings said the Louisiana native has become a leader and that all three work together to get better. 

In terms of skill set, Jennings compares Allen to himself while Lewis in his own category. 

“Terrell has a bigger frame and is longer. Chris Allen has more of a power and speed look, but we all complement each other.” 

With Sunseri heading this group, Alabama has potential to generate 50+ sacks. 

The hope is for everyone to remain healthy.  

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

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