Will The Alabama Defense Be As Good?
Alabama NG Jesse Williams
Alabama NG Jesse Williams
Posted Apr 8, 2012

From the Scout publishers, here's the inside info on the key questions this spring.

Spring 2012 - Key Questions


What's happening this spring season? Several FSN publishers provide their insider info on the key questions that matter to the real world of college football. Scroll down for the links to all the spring questions.

Q: Is it business as usual for the defense even with all the personnel losses?

From Kirk McNair, http://alabama.scout.com/  … The Alabama defense of 2011 may have been the best in modern college football history. The Crimson Tide led the nation in scoring defense, rushing defense, pass defense, total defense (obviously), and pass defense efficiency. Bama was tremendous on third downs and on forcing three-and-outs.

But that was 2011. Gone from that defense are All-America linebacker Courtney Upshaw; All-America safety Mark Barron; cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick and DeQuan Menzie; middle linebacker Don't'a Hightower; strongside linebacker Jerrell Harris; and nose tackle Josh Chapman. Most of those guys will be in the NFL this year.

So how is it that some – including Alabama players – think the 2012 Crimson Tide defense can be as good or better than the one that shut out LSU in the BCS National Championship Game?

The easy answer is Nick Saban. As good as Alabama coaching is, though, it isn't a matter of building the next defense after the final game of the season. Alabama has been building the 2012 defense over the past three or four recruiting seasons, and by playing back-ups in 2010 and 2011 in anticipation of 2012.

Jesse Williams will move from starting defensive end to nose tackle. Ed Stinson and Quinton Dial, who got plenty of playing time behind Williams last year, are competing for the end job opposite three-year starter Damion Square.

Nico Johnson and C.J. Mosley split time at weakside linebacker last year. This year they are likely to take the weakside and middle spots, although sophomore Trey DePriest looks like the next great Bama inside linebacker.

Upshaw was fantastic, the most valuable player in the 2011 Capital One Bowl and the most valuable defensive player in the 2012 BCS Championship Game. Sal Sunseri, who coached Bama outside linebackers, said he couldn't wait to see Adrian Hubbard at that jack linebacker position. Sunseri might not be so happy about Hubbard now, because Sunseri has moved on to be defensive coordinator at Tennessee. Brent Callaway, who worked at tailback last year, could be the strongside linebacker.

Saban did go for the quick fix at cornerback. Although Dee Milliner is back and has 17 games starting experience as either a cornerback or nickel back, Bama signed two top junior college transfers, former Tide signee Deion Belue and Travell Dixon.

Robert Lester returns at one safety for his third starting season. He'll be joined by soph headhunter Vinnie Sunseri (son of coach Sal Sunseri and brother of Pittsburgh quarterback Tino).

So, as good as 2011? Maybe not. But still better than most.

Q: Is Barrett Jones really going to move to center?

Part of the Nick Saban process of building an offensive line is to teach players at more than one position. Nevertheless, this Barrett Jones thing is hard to believe.

Jones was a Freshman All-America and as a sophomore was All-SEC playing right guard. When James Carpenter went from left tackle to first round NFL draft choice prior to 2011, Jones moved to that important position and responded with an All-America season and won the Outland Trophy as the nation's top interior lineman. Along the way he played a few snaps at center.

William Vlachos, the Tide's starting center the past three years, was the only senior starter on Bama's 2011 offensive line. There were two possibilities for 2012. Promote a back-up center or move Jones to center and find a replacement at left tackle.

It's likely that Alabama coaches decided that Cyrus Kouandjio, the outstanding prospect who played as Jones's back-up at left tackle last year as a freshman, was a better left tackle than anyone who could be elevated to center.

Thus, to put the best five on the field, Jones is moving to center. Joe Pendry, who coached Jones his redshirt freshman, freshman, and sophomore seasons, has no doubt Jones will be able to do the job. "He's a 4.0 student and he's a 5.0 football player," Pendry said of Jones, who is working on his master's degree in accounting.

Saban said it is not an experiment. "The experiment was last fall," he said. He also said the development of Kouandjio, who suffered an ACL injury in the eighth game last season but is rounding into form this spring, made the move possible. Saban said he considered Kouandjio a starter last year as a freshman.

Jones isn't automatically an all-star. Midway through spring practice, Saban said "Barrett is making adjustments to being a center. He's made progress, but that's not his natural position, even though he played there some last year. He'd be the first one to tell you the more he plays the better he's going to feel about it."

What's the biggest insider storyline from this spring that the average fan should know about?

Alabama ‘s wide receiver corps lost Julio Jones following the 2010 season and Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks following the 2011 season. So why are insiders at Bama whispering that this year's wide receivers could be the best group ever for the Crimson Tide?

Part of it is the man who makes the passes. AJ McCarron was a first-year starter last season as a sophomore. It was no surprise that he was given the left-handed compliment, "good game manager," like the blind date who has a "good personality." But a funny thing happened on the way to the 2011 national championship. McCarron did more than hand the ball off to Mark Ingram and let the defense get most of the credit, and just not lose games. When Bama's 21-0 victory over LSU in the BCS National Championship Game was over, McCarron was accepting the award as the Most Valuable Offensive Player.

McCarron can pass. And, as Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban said, "Sometimes the quarterback can make the receivers look good; and sometimes vice versa."

When Maze pulled a hamstring muscle while making a punt return against LSU in the Louisiana Superdome, Kevin Norwood filled in quite nicely. His catches – four of them for 78 yards -- over the Honey Badger, LSU All-America Tyrann Mathieu – were key to an Alabama offense that rolled up 21 first downs, 234 yards passing, 384 total yards, and 35:26 time of possession against a good Fighting Tigers defense.

Alabama also returns Kenny Bell, who had excellent touchdown catches against Bama's top rivals last year, Tennessee and Auburn.

Norwood, 6-2, 193, had 11 catches for 190 yards, a 17.3 yards per catch average last year as a sophomore. Bell, 6-1, 175, had 17 receptions for 255 yards, 15 yards per catch.

Bama also boasts former Texas track star DeAndrew White, who had 14 catches for 151 yards and two touchdowns as a true freshman. Christion Jones, who took over for Maze as punt return man in the BCS championship, was also a true freshman last year who saw only limited action, but who was having an excellent spring in 2012.

Also drawing attention in spring practice are two true freshmen; January enrollees from Florida. Amari Cooper and Chris Black were considered the top two receiver prospects in the Sunshine State last year.

And there could be a cherry on top. Duron Carter, the former Ohio State starter, has transferred to Alabama and has two years of eligibility remaining beginning this fall. That is if he can get his act together. Carter was not eligible to play last year, but was outstanding on the scout team. He was then suspended prior to the bowl game, and still had not been allowed to rejoin the team midway through spring practice. The 6-4, 210-pound junior would be a nice addition to what is expected to be a very fine group.

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