Nick Saban is not rebuilding his defense, despite the 628 yards given up to Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M Aggies. He is not going back to the drawing board or doubting the process as the 2013 season plays on.
And he shouldn't.
The recipe works, with few exceptions, and Johnny Football is certainly quite the exception. The Tide have played quality defense, including shutting out Ole Miss, for the bulk of the 2013 season. While Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart continue to look for wrinkles to thwart the efforts of dynamic players such as Manziel, sticking to the formula remains the prime directive.
What Alabama has been doing since the Texas A&M disaster is looking for an answer at the cornerback spot. An answer that has come in the form, seemingly, of freshman Eddie Jackson. Jackson got his first start against Colorado State and showed signs of being capable, but against Ole Miss, the kid from Florida started to come on very strong, tallying four tackles and an interception.
Jackson's emergence has allowed the Tide to plug up the dam that John Fulton let explode against Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans. The team recognizes the impact, as both Deion Belue and Kevin Norwood noted to the Tuscaloosa News:
"We finally found a piece to our secondary, so that we all can come together and mesh together, and that was a big deal in that situation," said Deion Belue, Alabama's most experienced cornerback. "It came out to be a big deal when we added Eddie Jackson to our secondary."
"He's a physical DB, man," receiver Kevin Norwood said. "He's just one of those guys that once you get past him, he'll find a way to catch back up to you and then deflect the ball and stuff like that. He's a really good DB."
For Alabama, it has never been about rebuilding; rather, the goal is finding the missing pieces. In this case, the Tide needed a tough, physical corner that is capable in man coverage, but can also mesh into zone schemes. Jackson is working on more communication, but physically he's proved himself able in his first two contests for the Crimson Tide.
The kid is comfortable mugged up in press coverage. As his interception shows, he also understands how to play coverage. In a cloud corner look, Jackson reroutes his receiver as he recognizes run flow in his direction; as Laquon Treadwell rises up to throw, Jackson sinks into the zone, intercepting the pass.
With a soft October, Alabama's defense should continue to put up suffocating numbers—the type of defensive effort that college football has grown to expect from Nick Saban and his team. Come November 9, expect the Tide to have pulled up to the bumpers of the nation's top defenses.
Although, as it tends to happen with football, just as one problem gets cleared up, a new one presents itself. As AL.com reports, HaHa Clinton-Dix, Alabama's star safety, is now suspended indefinitely following a violation of team rules, leaving a new hole for the Tide to fill.
Alabama will reshuffle the deck for the next few games. Landon Collins and Geno Smith will step into Clinton-Dix's role as the Tide move forward. Following the A&M debacle, it has been about finding a missing piece for Alabama, not rebuilding.
After all, three BCS Championships into the process, you don't change it on the way to No. 4.