Only three starters return off the defense of the defending National Champions. Many people believe that there is going to be a drop off on the defensive side of the football for Alabama and there probably is especially early. But, I do not believe the defense for the Crimson Tide will drop off nearly as much as some others believe. After one game you cannot gage too much of a defense, especially when the opposing offense is that of San Jose State. But, the Tide did look very good despite a few breakdowns. I think there are three major reasons why the defense will again be near the top in the country.
1) Nick Saban and Kirby Smart
There is not a better defensive mind in the world than that of Nick Saban. There are not many hotter coordinators in the country than Kirby Smart. These two men are not going to allow the defense to have much of a drop off at all. Yes, I know the coaches don’t play the games, but these two men are great defensive minds and tremendous motivators.
The last two seasons the Tide’s defense has been ranked third and second in total defense in that order. If you take out years 2000, 2001, and 2007 of coaching in the SEC for Saban, (because he was taking over bad teams and did not have his own players in yet), the average for Saban’s defenses ranking in total defense is 3.4. That means on average, Saban’s defenses are the third best total defense. His lowest ranking was eighth and that was his third year in the SEC. In other words, Saban’s defenses don’t rebuild…they reload.
According to Rivals, Alabama’s recruiting class was ranked number one in 2008 and 2009 and number five in 2010. There is no doubt in the ability of Nick Saban and his staff to recruit players according to his team’s needs. The main concern of this defense is the inexperience in the secondary. But, the last two season the Tide have picked up the number two (Demarcus Milliner, 2010) and number one (Dre Kirkpatrick, 2009) ranked corners in there class. Also, Jarrick Williams was the ranked number five and Nick Perry number twenty-five in the 2010 class, as well as Robert Lester ranked number twenty-three in the class of 2008. So yes, the inexperience is definitely there. But, the talent is very abundant. Plus, being led by an All-American candidate Mark Barron in the secondary does not hurt. Really the only concern of the defense going into last season was how the Tide would replace Rashad Johnson and Mark Barron answered those concerns with flying colors.
Nick Saban is known for getting players that perfectly fit into his system. Yes, he did not expect Robby Green to get suspended, but he went out and recruited players that have the ability to slide into that role. These players may be young, but they have all the physical tools and talent it takes to live up to their potential.
3) Players that have experience
Of the eleven listed starters on the Tide defense, seven of them have had significant playing time. Also, a few of the other players in the rotation have a significant playing time. So, the drop off in experience is not quite as much as the two returning starters stat indicates. There is a lot more experience of the Tide defense than some are giving credit for.
Like I talked about earlier, the secondary is where the inexperience is the most evident. Outside of Mark Barron, there is not much experience back there. Robert Lester and Dre Kirkpatrick both have some experience, but not much and mainly on special teams. DeQuan Menzie has experience, but at the Junior College level. LSU transfer Phelon Jones has experience, but had to sit out last year due to transferring. So, although there is not a whole lot of experience in the secondary, there is some.
The linebacking core has probably the most experience for the Tide with Dont’a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw, Jerrell Harris, and Nico Johnson all having significant playing time under there belts. The starting three defensive linemen all have experience, but beyond those three there is not much experience. But, of course it is a very talented bunch.
So, no the Tide are not returning a whole lot of experience. But, there is more experience returning than people believe and there is no way you can question the talent on this defense. When you add in the coaching that this defense will receive, I don’t believe there will be much of a drop off (if any) from last year’s defense. Plus, when you have the offense that the Crimson Tide has, it gives the defense a lot more confidence and room for error. The defense dominated against San Jose State despite a few breakdowns and they will only get better. One things for sure, this defense has the talent to be dominate. Will they put it together? That’s for us to wait and see.