Media members of both Alabama and Michigan were graced with Pete Golding’s presence on Sunday, as he was one of four assistant coaches that spoke at media day. Regardless of over exaggerations, Alabama was not completely horrible on defense this year. It was not one that fans are accustomed to seeing; however, it forced 20 turnovers and could’ve pitched five shutouts.
In his first season as defensive coordinator, Golding entered the campaign without two instrumental pieces at inside linebacker.
The duo of Dylan Moses and Joshua McMillon sustained knee injuries in August camp and would miss the entire regular season.
With no experience behind those two, Golding and the Crimson Tide turned to a pair of true freshmen – Shane Lee and Christian Harris – and while both were four-star recruits, neither of the two have played on a stage quite like this one.
Lee and Harris went through growing pains, but improvements from both were made each week. Lee finished with 77 tackles, including 5.5 coming for loss and 3.5 sacks. He also recorded three quarterback pressures through 12 games.
Harris recorded 54 tackles (fourth on the roster) and had 5.5 tackles for loss with five quarterback hurries.
A native of Baton Rouge, La., he tallied a fumble recovery versus Auburn and was selected to the SEC Coaches’ All-Freshman Team.
Even with the issues of learning the system and the Tide allowing 203 points to the SEC (25.4 ppg), Golding said both guys really ‘love football’ and they prepare the right way.
The 35-year-old had the task of preparing Lee and Harris all season and he spoke on the challenges that go into freshmen stepping into big roles.
“Those two freshmen that came in are really good players,” Golding said of Lee and Harris.
“I think the struggle for any young player in any system coming into college football as a freshman is adjusting to the speed of the game… And I think as many shifts and motions that they see, when the pitcher changes… those guys having to make a call in a split second and all eleven guys are waiting on them to make the call… I think that was an early struggle for them.”
At the defense of his guys, Golding referred to Lee and Harris as being ‘very smart’ and said both improved as the season progressed. He said both guys are in the film room all the time.
“They had their growing pains. I had mines. I was not perfect by any means,” Golding said.
“It was a situation we were put in, but I am extremely proud of how they handled themselves, and the preparation they put forth.”
For Tide fans that demand excellence, using the sentence “Well, they are freshmen,” does not always answer the question. The ability to progress and evolve takes time, yet one is often compared to its predecessor and this is no different for Lee and Harris.
Both came in a strong lineage of inside linebackers who either started as freshmen or played a lot in year one.
Perfection is expected for Alabama football – due to expectations – but Golding provided an explanation on what makes it difficult for a young player to learn a complex system on the fly.
“A lot of programs play freshmen,” Golding said. “A lot of it has to do with the position they are playing and who is around them. I think it was a unique deal this year that you lost two guys at the same position, to where you have two 18-year-olds that have never been in the system side-by-side and a lot of times they are looking for confirmation. They are looking for confirmation from the guy beside them and he does not know either and that has been the biggest difference.”
Golding harped on the fact that Lee and Harris were both new to this, and not having game experience at inside linebacker on the field to help them was a big factor.
“That was the biggest difference this year,” he said. “We had two 18-year-old kids in the middle of the defense who were responsible for making the calls.”
Although he understands that every school – including Alabama – plays freshmen and will have to play young players, Golding wanted to get across the degree of difficulty in having two freshmen beside each other that were called upon to run the defense.
With more playing time, Lee and Harris will be good for years to come and the Tide is also bringing in a strong freshman class.
For now, Golding and Alabama’s defense are locked in on Michigan.
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