Alabama will have to replace several starters off of last season’s record-setting defense, with the Crimson Tide losing its top three leaders in sacks from the 2011 national championship squad.
With spring practice kicking off last Friday, one of Nick Saban’s biggest objectives will be to find a few capable pass-rushers to emerge in order for his defense to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks this fall.
He will likely be paying close attention to the new faces at linebacker despite returning three veteran defensive ends—especially considering that Crimson Tide defensive ends only accounted for four sacks total as a unit last season.
While the defense may not be designed to lead the nation in sacks—Alabama managed to accrue a respectable 30 sacks in 2011—it does require their front seven to make the quarterback as uncomfortable as possible in the pocket.
Returning veterans Nico Johnson and C.J. Mosley are dependable linebackers capable of blitzing when called upon, but a particularly significant loss is the departure of pass-rusher extraordinaire Courtney Upshaw—Alabama’s leader in sacks last year.
Filling the void of the Crimson Tide’s jack linebacker—a hybrid position that mixes defensive end and linebacker responsibilities—will be one of the most pressing issues for Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart before the annual A-Day game scheduled for April 14.
Several talented youngsters will compete for the right to claim the vacancy left by Upshaw.
Sophomores Adrian Hubbard and Xzavier Dickson are expected to get the first crack at the job—with both Georgia natives possessing great potential, but in need of practice reps to refine their raw talent.
Both players played sparingly—Hubbard played in nine games and recorded eight tackles while Dickson played in seven games recording three tackles. Both players will likely be counted on heavily this fall to fill the void on a defense that heads into 2012 devoid of experienced pass-rushers.
A wild card for the Jack position could be junior William Ming, whom my colleague Jimmy McMurrey broke down in this excellent piece.
Junior Jonathan Atchison and true freshman Ryan Anderson are a couple of names to watch who could also challenge Hubbard and Dickson for the role.
The player who emerges to earn the starting nod will be counted on to take over a role that Upshaw thrived in on his way to 9.5 sacks and a likely home in the first-round of the upcoming NFL draft.
However, with the talent Saban has managed to stockpile on defense over the last two recruiting classes, new stars are bound to come to light when the Crimson Tide kicks off their 2012 season against Michigan.
Their identity may not be known at this time, but the path to discovery is currently being formed with every play made during spring ball.