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Alabama’s defensive position coaches deserve these grades after eight games

Photo comes via SEC Media Portal

Alabama football was off last week.

The Crimson Tide got players rested and healthy for this week’s SEC West showdown against LSU at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

RELATED: Alabama DC Kevin Steele deserves this grade at bye week

Alabama’s coaching staff has grown with this team throughout the season as the Tide is 7-1. The staff at Touchdown Alabama Magazine introduced a series of grading the coaching staff after the first half of the season.

After looking at the offensive position coaches, Alabama’s defensive position coaches are next to be graded.

Freddie Roach, DL Coach 

He’s come under fire from Alabama fans in the last couple of years because of a lack of a defensive pass rush, but Freddie Roach has the Crimson Tide’s defensive line playing well since the South Florida game.

Alabama’s defensive front has been a marquee reason behind the second-half success of the Tide in games. Roach has developed Tim Kennan III, Jaheim Oatis, Justin Eboigbe, Jah-Marien Latham, Damon Payne, and others to effectively pressure the pocket inside on opposing quarterbacks. Eboigbe, a redshirt senior, leads the group with 5.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. Kennan, a redshirt sophomore, led the team in total tackles versus Texas A&M. He has been impressive as a nose tackle, moving Oatis to defensive end. The contributions from Payne, Latham, and Tim Smith have been great as well. Smith, a former five-star, is playing like the individual Alabama thought it signed in its 2020 recruiting class. Roach has flipped the switch for this group.

It needs to maintain gap integrity on dual-threat quarterbacks, but the Tide is playing with more intensity.

Grade: B+

Robert Bala, ILB Coach

People will look back at Nick Saban’s decision to hire Robert Bala as a great move.

He was an unknown as an inside linebackers coach, but the California native has the Tide thumping again.

Bala has Alabama diagnosing plays, shooting gaps, making tackles, being aggressive, and having lateral quickness. Deontae Lawson, a redshirt sophomore, is holding teammates accountable. He leads the inside linebacker room with 49 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, three quarterback hurries, and two pass breakups. Trezmen Marshall, a transfer from Georgia, has been a nice addition to the room. He chimes in with 40 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and a quarterback hurry. Bala has turned sophomore Jihaad Campbell into a star. He returned a fumble for a touchdown against Tennessee, but the former five-star totals 39 tackles, three stops for loss, two quarterback hurries, and an interception. Kendrick Blackshire, a former four-star in the 2021 signing class, has emerged as a playmaker. Bala has him with 14 total tackles, a tackle for loss, a quarterback hurry, and a forced fumble. Alabama’s inside linebackers are scary again, and Bala’s coaching and energy have this unit exciting to watch on the field.

Grade: A

Coleman Hutzler, OLB Coach

Coleman Hutzler is a great recruiter, but he has found his groove in coaching outside linebackers for Alabama.

He’s produced two of the best pass rushers in college football. Dallas Turner and Chris Braswell are wrecking opposing quarterbacks. Turner leads the team for sacks (seven), tackles for loss (10.5), and quarterback hurries (10) while having two forced fumbles. He is one of the nation’s best at getting pressure on quarterbacks. Braswell, a former five-star, is turning in a special season. The Maryland native has nine tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, four quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles, a pass breakup, a blocked field goal, and an interception returned for a touchdown. He returned a blocked kick for a touchdown versus Texas A&M, but a penalty negated the score. Braswell forced a fumble off Joe Milton against Tennessee, and Campbell returned it for a touchdown. Quandarrius Robinson, a former five-star, has been a nice revelation for the team. He has two tackles for loss and a sack. Hutzler has a group that can get hot with pressuring quarterbacks at any moment. He has the edge guys playing well.

Grade: A

Travaris Robinson, Secondary Coach

Whether he is the secondary coach or part defensive coordinator, Travaris Robinson has been wonderful.

Terrion Arnold, a third-year player, is dominating as a cornerback. He has 40 total tackles, five tackles for loss, a sack, six pass breakups, and an interception. He’s become one of the best coverage corners in college football. Kool-Aid McKinstry, a junior, is having a good year. He is a potential top 10 NFL Draft pick for next year.

McKinstry has 20 total tackles, a tackle for loss, and five pass breakups. He’s been burned on plays at times, but he’s consistent more so than not in covering receivers. Malachi Moore, a senior, has regained his freshman form under Robinson.

He has 34 tackles, four stops for loss, three pass breakups, a quarterback hurry, and an interception.

Caleb Downs, a five-star freshman, has been the biggest surprise. He leads the defense for total tackles (63) and has one tackle for loss, a pass breakups, a forced fumble, and an interception.

Downs is a two-time SEC Freshman of the Week.

Robinson has done an outstanding job with this group. Alabama has had a few busted coverages and moments where it has missed tackles, but nothing too severe at all.

Grade: A-

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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.

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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