The Alabama defense has plenty of talent on the roster for 2012. In fact, while the players that left for the NFL draft will be missed, the drop-off could be small. That is a major statement when you think about how last year's defense was one of the best of all time in my opinion.
Though some of these players have never played at the collegiate level, I expect them to make a huge impact on the team. If you don't know these names, get to learn them now, because these are the players you will be cheering for in a repeat championship run.
Nico Johnson. LB
Linebacker Nico Johnson is a stud, plain and simple. Johnson is a 6'3" 245-pound run stuffer that is quick to the ball and can lay a hit. Most Alabama fans will know Johnson from the time that he spent in Hightower's vacated spot after his injury. Don't call him a one-trick pony MLB because he also looks very good in coverage. He even sniffed out a Tim Tebow fake-run jump pass and picked it in the 2009 game that shifted the power in the SEC from the Gator to Bama.
Robert Lester, S
I was shocked when safety Robert Lester didn't declare for the 2012 NFL Draft. Lester has two years of very solid production in Nick Saban's defense. While his stats may not wow you, his play should. His coverage ability allowed Mark Barron to roam the field and show off his instincts the way he did.
He is a top-flight defensive back that will be key in helping Saban groom his talented young DBs. Look for Lester to be a sneaky first-round pick in 2013 after a stellar 2012 season.
Trey Depriest, ILB
Depriest spent some playing time at LB in 2011, but he will see a starting role in 2012. Replacing Upshaw and Hightower won't be easy, but with Depriest and Johnson on the roster it may not be as hard as most people think.
A highly-rated defender in high school, Depriest has a ton of upside and potential as an inside LB. After a year of polish, he has all the tools to be an exceptional penetrating LB that makes plays behind the line of scrimmage.
Vinnie Sunseri, S
For those of you wondering, this is my pick for who should replace Mark Barron at safety. Sunseri was a linebacker in high school, and he can be special against the run. When he sees the ball, he flips his hips and drives through players. That explosiveness doesn't stop on first, second or third down and he shows no fear.
While he doesn't have huge upside as a cover guy, he can be a solid player in the defensive backfield if he needs to be. However, the best way to take advantage of this guy's skill set is to have him as a rover that can come up in the box and read the RB. If the back is staying in to protect, send Sunseri in to blow it up. If not, you have him drop back like he is a Tampa-2 MLB. Either way, he has a lot of potential as a "striking safety."
Those are the players I can't wait to see hit the field on opening day, but I am just as excited to watch the defense as a whole. If you think I missed someone obvious or important, leave me a comment and we can discuss why that player will or won't have a great year. Thanks for reading.