Going into the 2021 season, one of the most high-profile players Alabama acquired in the offseason wasn’t a brand new five-star freshman, but rather a transfer linebacker from its rival in Henry To’oto’o. Expectations were high and rightfully so for To’oto’o who was amongst the best linebackers in the South Eastern Conference while a member of the Volunteers.
Now with a third of Alabama’s regular season in the rearview mirror, there is more than a loft sample size of To’oto’o’s performance as the team’s starting inside linebacker.
To’oto’o was asked by reporters on Tuesday what his evaluation of his own play is at this point in the year.
“There is a lot of room to improve,” To’oto’o said. “That’s something that I pride myself on is always trying to find something I can work on. But it’s been a good time, been a great time. But I feel like there’s a lot of room to improve as a team, too.”
Through four games, To’oto’o is Alabama’s leading tackler with 25 and is the play-caller for a defense that ranks fourth in the SEC in yards allowed.
But it hasn’t been a transition without outs bumps, as To’oto’o along with the rest of the Crimson Tide defense appeared to struggle at multiple points this season especially when playing the run. Despite only allowing 17.8 points per game, the Crimson Tide defense has been exposed on the ground especially in the Florida game.
Against the Gators the Crimson Tide allowed 245 rushing yards to go along with multiple penalties and missed tackles. In its most recent game against Southern Miss, there were still points where the defense appeared to not be completely in sync.
One specific aspect To’oto’o is looking to see improvement in is the speed of relaying the play call to the rest of the defense.
“Definitely trying to get the call in fast,” To’oto’o said. “See the signal as fast as I can and just try to relay the message, echo the call as many times as I can before the ball is snapped. But the faster we get the call, the faster we can line up and play ball.”
Originally coming from a Jeremy Pruitt defensive system has helped To’oto’o promptly get up to speed when taking over play-calling duties for the Crimson Tide. But he now relies on conversations with defensive coordinator Pete Golding to help him get more efficient on the field.
“Just sitting down with Pete and just trying to figure out how I can better my game,” To’oto’o said. “The faster I can get the call in, get everybody ready, the faster that I can be able to be more productive on the field. Those conversations are huge.”
Alabama’s defense still has some ways to go in order to reach the standard Saban and its players hold it to, but To’oto’o’s teammates have been pleased with his performance thus far.
“Henry’s done a great job for us making the calls, getting the front right, making sure him and Christian (Harris) are on the same page, and getting calls to the back end,” safety Jordan Battle told reporters on Tuesday. “Me and DeMarcco (Hellams), or me and (Daniel) Wright, whoever is back there. So I feel like he’s done a great job being the quarterback of the defense for us right now. I feel like he has a great future of doing that, as well.”
Alabama and To’oto’o will be hoping to take a big step forward this weekend when the Crimson Tide welcomes an Ole Miss team that put up 647 yards of total offense and 48 points on the defense a season ago.
And To’oto’o is well aware of how his teammates view that performance.
“They harp on it,” To’oto’o said. “It wasn’t the game that they wanted, it wasn’t the kind of performance on defense they wanted. So this week’s been a huge harp on executing what we have to do. Ole Miss is a great team, they do great things on offense and it’s a huge challenge for us and we’re looking forward to that challenge.
“It’s all on us to execute throughout this week.”
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Patrick Dowd is a Reporter for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter, via Pat_Dowd77