Alabama Football: 11 Reasons Why Defense Will Be Just as Effective
Alabama's defense in 2011 is already the stuff of legends. Such a defense will likely not be seen again in quite a while—even at Alabama. But the 2012 defense will be just effective at doing their job.
At Alabama, the defense's job to win games, as well as championships.
The 2012 version of the defense may not be the immovable object that they were in 2011 as they will bend they will not break.
Here are 11 reasons why Alabama's defense will be just as effective, even if they aren't as experienced.
"They Will Be Bad" Is a Myth
Too many people have a habit of clinging to the myth that the 2010 Alabama defense wasn't good, and that's why the team lost three games.
The defense only cost them one game, and that was the game against South Carolina.
It was lack of offensive production, not the defense, that cost them the three games. That and some guy named Cam Newton had to go into Heisman mode on the Tide.
That defense ranked third in the nation in scoring defense, 10th in rush defense, 13th in pass defense and fifth in total defense.
That's not legendary, but it's pretty damn good. I still cannot understand why anyone still thinks that 'Bama's 2010 defense was bad. A few broken coverages and missed tackles don't make a defense bad.
Those same naysayers are saying the same thing of the 2012 defense. They believe that the turnover rate between the NFL raft and graduation will leave the 'Bama defense so depleted that they will be completely inept.
That couldn't be further from the truth, and there's a big difference between 2010 and 2012. The '10 defense was littered with too many young players—including true freshmen. The '12 defense will have a lot of new starters who are upperclassmen.
Though these new guys will have little starting experience, they're not short on game-time experience. These former backups have a lot of playing time under their belts.
The New Starters Have the Same Core Coaching Staff
There have been a few position coach changes in recent years, but the core of the defensive coaching staff at Alabama comes down to two people: Nick Saban and Kirby Smart.
All of the defensive players on the roster arrived at the Capstone when Saban and Smart were in charge, and many of these players are now juniors and seniors. They have been in the same exact system for their entire time at Alabama.
That level of consistency in the coaching staff has allowed the players to seamlessly be assimilated perfectly into the Tide's defensive scheme.
Even without a great deal of playing time, these guys know their roles and likely have the playbook memorized front to back.
Staff personnel turnover can have severe adverse effects on a program, but consistency with a good staff never does.
The Tide's coaching staff is second to none, and the two key coaches have been grooming the same young men for several years now to their exact specifications.
Did I mention that Kirby Smart is the best defensive coordinator in the nation, bar none?
Recruiting Has Been Top Notch Since 2008
When schools are ranked on their recruiting classes, it's based on the "stars" awarded to high school prospects by the recruiting circles.
Granted, a star rating doesn't mean everything, but a 4- or 5-star prospect will turn into a great college player more often than a 3-star player turns into one, especially at Alabama. And Alabama brings in a lot of 4- and 5-star prospects.
Alabama molds their prospects into championship and NFL-caliber players.
First-year starter? No problem.
Dont'a Hightower's Absence Won't Be Felt
This is a photo of Dont'a Hightower coaching up his then-future successor—Trey DePriest. This is now, and DePriest is ready
Nick Saban brought DePriest into the Alabama family with one goal—make him the Tide's next great middle linebacker.
He's more than ready to take over as one of Alabama's defensive generals, but he's not alone.
Nico Johnson, a senior in 2012, is capable of the role, as is junior C.J. Mosley. All three of them can make on-field adjustments, and nobody will be out of place.
This linebacking trio will be nearly unstoppable.
Young Secondary? Not so Fast My Friend!
The young secondary was the weak spot in the 2010 defense, and it was because they were young, filled with underclassmen.
That's not the case in 2012. When someone calls a third-year player who transferred from a junior college "young" or "inexperienced", I call them silly. Good production at the junior college level is generally a better indicator of talent and ability than high school production.
Alabama has DeMarcus Milliner, now a junior, as the primary cornerback—a three-year starter with plenty of starting time under his belt.
His wingmen (among many other experienced individuals) will be JuCo transfers Travell Dixon and Deion Belue. Belue made some big waves during the Alabama A-Day game when he returned an interception 97 yards for a touchdown.
The safeties aren't young either.
Robert Lester will be a third-year starter and likely will be a first-round NFL draft pick when he eventually leaves.
Vinnie Sunseri will be only a sophomore, but while he's technically young, his on-field performances make him one of the best safeties in the nation—underclassman or not. His pure football smarts have allowed him to soak up the 'Bama playbook like it was a child's bedtime story book.
More on him later.
Alabama Has a True Nose Tackle
Alabama has a base 3-4 defense, and the core of that defense is the nose tackle. The Tide had a true nose tackle with Terrence Cody—albeit with a gas tank the size of a thimble—in 2008 and 2009.
They had a great run-stopping nose tackle in 2010 and 2011 with Josh Chapman, and Nick Gentry filled the pass-rushing nose tackle role in 2011 as it was not Chapman's forte.
In 2012, Jesse Williams will no longer be playing defensive end, where he played in 2011 as a fresh JuCo transfer. He was brought to Alabama to take over at nose tackle.
His experience doesn't match his raw strength and talent, but he's capable of playing against the double teams and controlling the opposing offensive line.
The play of the defense—specifically the linebackers—greatly relies on the success of the nose tackle to impose his will on offensive linemen.
He's as big and strong as Chapman, a lot quicker on his feet and has the motor and longevity that Cody never had.
Williams may be Australian, but he looks like a 320-pound Algonquin warrior to me.
Alabama Will Have a Vicious Pass Rush
Alabama's pass rush in 2012 was pretty good overall. They ranked fourth in the SEC and 29th in the nation. But it could have been a lot better, right?
In 2011, the Tide had Courtney Upshaw, Dont'a Hightower and Nick Gentry as the only players who were effectively getting near the quarterback. They led the team in sacks and quarterback hurries, but there could have been a little more production from other positions.
Upshaw may be gone, and while he was a special talent, Alabama has some special players rising quickly in Adrian Hubbard and Xzavier Dickson, as well as a lot of help pushing the line from the Tide's stud middle linebackers.
Alabama also has some promising players who may be able to run the corner blitz, a play that hasn't been very effective since Javier Arenas (five sacks in 2009), graduated from Alabama.
Will that change with Deion Belue around? He's one of the fastest (if not the fastest) players on the defense and could get to the quarterback in a heartbeat. I believe that Saban and Smart will experiment extensively with his blitzing potential.
The defensive ends will also look to get in the mix. Damion Square has four sacks and four QB hurries in the past two years, and less-experienced players like Quinton Dial and Ed Stinson seem more than ready to be unleashed.
It only takes one good hit to make the quarterback panic for the rest of the game, and Alabama's pass-rushing squad could certainly exceed the 30 sacks they racked up last season.
Alabama's Offense Will Be the Best Since Saban Arrived
"Alabama's offense will be good, so their defense will be good? What?"
If you asked yourself that, I'll explain further.
The longer your offense is on the field, the more fresh your defense is when they hit the turf. It's as simple as that.
In Alabama's case, here are some numbers to back it up in the team's average time of possession.
- 2009 TOP: 33 minutes, 11 seconds, first in SEC. 14-0 season, national champions.
- 2010 TOP: 30 minutes, 46 seconds, fourth in SEC. 10-3 season, Capital One Bowl champions.
- 2011 TOP: 32 minutes, 47 seconds, second in SEC. 12-1 season, national champions.
See the trend there? Time of possession matters, even if it's just a few minutes. Turnovers and punts can kill a defense's motor as fast as any injury.
What hurts a defense the most is when the team's offense goes three-and-out on a possession. Three downs and then punt. The defense is back on the field after only a couple minutes of rest. Breathing hard, are we?
The Tide dominated Florida in the 2009 SEC Championship, and it wasn't because Tim Tebow isn't a great NFL quarterback (yet?), because he was a phenomenal college quarterback in a system tailored perfectly for him.
It was because the Tide held the ball for 39 minutes and 37 seconds.
When your defense is rarely on the field, they will be playing every play as if it were first play of the game.
Alabama's Discipline Is Second to None
Discipline in practice and in a player's studies are important, but that's not the kind of discipline I'm talking about here. I'm talking about the kind of discipline that prevents penalties.
Penalties against an offense in football are usually very forgiving. False starts, a five-yard penalty, and holding, a 10-yard penalty, can sometimes be tough to overcome, but they're manageable and can sometimes prove to be irrelevant (such as when the team ends up scoring).
Defensive penalties, however, will more often than not give the other team a fresh set of downs. That gives them a greater chance to score and ensures the Tide's offense starts closer to their own end zone.
Roughing the passer, face mask, horse collar, helmet-to-helmet and the list goes on. For Alabama, however, the defense rarely gives the other team free yards.
One has to look no further than the 2012 BCS National Championship game for the perfect example.
Alabama had one single penalty throughout the entire game. You would think Nick Saban was happy with that, but during the game, you could see he was completely irate that a penalty was received. He wasn't mad at the officials, but mad at the player.
He stresses it not just on the field, but in practice as well. The Crimson Tide play a clean game throughout.
No opposing defense will get a free ride to the end zone because no Alabama defender will lose his cool and go all Ndamukong Suh on the other guy.
The Tide Is as Deep as the Ocean
The Tide has been one of the deepest teams in the nation, talent-wise, for several years now.
The best example is from 2009 when Mark Ingram won the Heisman Trophy, and many wondered if he was really the best running back on the team.
His backup, Trent Richardson, looked better than Ingram time and again, especially in 2010 and 2011 when Richardson worked with an arguably worse offensive line.
That's not quite the case with all the other positions, but all of Alabama's backups are only inches behind the starters.
No team can plug-and-play fresh faces into a game at a moments notice without skipping a beat.
Many teams have the misfortune of knowing who will be the starters the following season but not at 'Bama. Position battles are so fierce and long-lasting, and that's a testament as to how deep their talent pool is.
The previous 10 slides were in no particular order or rank, but this final slide is the No. 1 reason why the Alabama defense will be just as effective in 2012.
Vinnie Sunseri is a football savant, and if you aren't convinced yet, you soon will be.
He's going to make some big, splash plays like Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu did in 2011, but he will actually be consistent and productive between those splash plays as well.
Are you interested yet?
Stay tuned, as I will go into extensive detail about why Vinnie Sunseri is about to become the most feared defender in not only the SEC, but the nation as well in Friday's article.