Alabama Football News

Nick Saban and defensive staff must find other defensive playmakers to protect Will Anderson

Drew Sanders (#20) lines up at outside linebacker for Alabama versus Florida
Photo by Robert Sutton of Alabama Athletics/ SEC Media Portal

The University of Alabama built a defensive culture in football.

In the tenures of Wallace Wade, Frank Thomas, Paul W. “Bear” Bryant, Eugene Stallings, and Nick Saban, the defense set the stage for the Crimson Tide’s national championship culture.

Despite the sport of college football evolving to more on offense, Alabama fans expect some forms of dominance to remain on defense.

The 2017 group was the most recent elite defensive unit for the Crimson Tide, and the 2016 defense was the most special one.

Alabama wants to return to this style of play, but Saban and his defensive staff have to stop overly relying on one player. Regardless of the first-round picks it had on the defensive front, having several great athletes made the Tide elite.

Players like Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne, A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed, Tim Williams, Ryan Anderson, Reuben Foster, Rashaan Evans, Reggie Ragland, and Shaun Dion Hamilton had others to help them.

RELATED: Stephen Smith challenges Alabama defensive players on dog mentality and leadership

Through its first three games, Alabama has relied too much on Will Anderson Jr.

Other guys are looking at him to make plays, and the coaching staff views him as ‘the guy.’

Anderson is a generational talent at outside linebacker. The sophomore has 19 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and four quarterback hurries in three games. He led the Tide for total tackles (nine) versus the Hurricanes and won SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts against Florida.

National championship teams have more than one exceptional player. Alabama has recruited the four and five-star athletes to take pressure off Anderson. Coach Saban has Drew Sanders, Chris Braswell, King Mwikuta, Dallas Turner, Christian Harris, Henry To’oto’o, Phidarian Mathis, DJ Dale, Tim Smith, Justin Eboigbe, LaBryan Ray, and Byron Young. The Crimson Tide has stockpiled talent on its defensive front, but it is time to see these individuals produce.

Alabama’s defensive staff needs to create opportunities for Sanders, Braswell, Mwikuta, and Turner to be dangerous as edge rushers.

Three of the four came as five stars.

Mathis is a fifth-year senior on the defensive line. He has the potential to be a first-round pick; however, he needs to pick it up.

RELATED: TV cameras caught Trey Sanders looking disappointed on Alabama’s sideline during Florida game

Names such as Dale, Smith, Eboigbe, and Young must take ownership upfront. Ray is back from groin surgery, so the Tide needs to work him in at some point. Fans want to see if he can put one healthy year on tape for NFL scouts. Also, Saban needs to start rotating other players into games. We have yet to see Jamil Burroughs, Jah-Marien Latham, Stephon Wynn, and talented freshmen from the 2021 signing class. We also have not seen enough of Jaylen Moody, Shane Lee, and other inside linebackers that can affect the passing game, stop the run and make Alabama fearsome on defense.

As marquee as Anderson is, the native Georgian cannot do everything. Alabama has to start trusting other players and using the rotation of defensive talent it has.

It does not matter if it creates different packages for players or substituting the right guys in, the Tide has to take pressure off Anderson.

According to DeMarcco Hellams, Harris, Mathis, and To’oto’o are the vocal leaders on defense.

These players need to step up and win their one-on-one battles. If Alabama wants to be elite, it will have to get more from other players this season.

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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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