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The success of Alabama’s defense will center around these 3 players for 2024

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Alabama fans understood and appreciated every move Nick Saban made in evolving as a coach since 2014.

The hiring of Lane Kiffin was controversial, but Saban knew college football was shifting to offense and Kiffin is one of the best in scheming out matchups. His willingness to change allowed Saban to also bring in Michael Locksley, Brian Daboll, and Steve Sarkisian, which propelled Alabama to have more highly touted quarterbacks. Tua Tagovailoa, Jalen Hurts, Mac Jones, and Bryce Young took the Crimson Tide from a defensive program with great running backs to becoming an offensive powerhouse. 

RELATED: 5 Alabama players with the most to prove heading into fall camp

All four quarterbacks have at least one national championship ring, all are in the National Football League, three were first-round NFL Draft selections, three were Heisman Memorial Trophy finalists, and one (Young) won a Heisman Trophy.

Saban evolved before retirement, yet Tide fans long to have an elite defense again too. Alabama flourished offensively from 2019 to 2022 with Tagovailoa, Jones, and Young, but its defense suffered under Pete Golding. Kevin Steele returned the group to playing fast and physical in 2023; however, he retired after the season.

Kane Wommack, a former head coach at South Alabama, has the responsibility as the Crimson Tide’s new defensive coordinator to have his side of the football playing with its hair on fire.

The national championship defenses of the Saban era had Alabama natives anchor those groups to prominence.

This year’s defense will center around three in-state players. If these guys dominate, the Tide will be champions again.

Deontae Lawson, LB

Deontae Lawson witnessed so many game-changing linebackers in the Saban era at Alabama.

He had to have seen Alabama natives such as Rolando McClain, C.J. Mosley, Nico Johnson, Reggie Ragland, Reuben Foster, Shaun Dion Hamilton, and Rashaan Evans dominate every game. Those guys took defense personally and wanted the Crimson Tide destroying everything in its path. Lawson, a native of Mobile, Ala., must carry that kind of mentality in the coming fall.

He was solid in 2023, but Alabama nation wants him to go from a solid to a menace.

Lawson has to be the tone setter to put things in motion for this group.

Malachi Moore, DB

Malachi Moore’s decision to return to the University of Alabama for a fifth year was so valuable.

He is the lone player on this list with a national championship ring from the 2020 College Football Playoff season as a freshman.

RELATED: 3 defensive position groups for Alabama with a lot to prove in fall camp

Moore, a native of Trussville, Ala., has endured injuries, but he is battle-tested. He bounced back in 2023 with a strong season, earning permanent team captain honors from his teammates. Moore collected 52 total tackles — including five for loss — five pass breakups, a quarterback hurry, and an interception. He carries the intensity and leadership for the secondary, especially during Alabama’s offseason summer program. Moore wants another national title ring, and he’s tired of coming short of it. He has transitioned from slot cornerback to strong safety on defense. His communication on the back end will help Keon Sabb, DeVonta Smith, and whoever wins the two cornerback positions be successful. Moore has an opportunity to secure an All-American year.

Tim Kennan III, DL

Tim Kennan’s security in his faith allowed him to emerge as a starter at defensive tackle last season.

Now at 305 pounds, the 6-foot-2 nose tackle from Birmingham (Ala.) is set to do even more.

Kennan sets the tone up front with his motor, toughness, physicality, and ability to win one-on-one matchups.

He has always been stellar against the run; however, he’s taken this offseason to perfect his pass-rush moves. Kennan had 38 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, a sack, seven quarterback hurries (led all defensive linemen), and a pass breakup in 2023. He has to shut down the middle of the opposition’s offensive line to allow Alabama’s linebackers and defensive ends to create plays. 

If he takes another step forward, the rest of the Tide’s defensive front will feed off his energy.

Kennan could be the first traditional defensive lineman for Alabama taken in the first round of the NFL Draft since Quinnen Williams, a fellow Birmingham native, in 2019. Williams was selected at No. 3 overall by the New York Jets.

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Stephen M. Smith is the 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 15 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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