2012 Alabama Preview – Defense
Alabama S Robert Lester
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Alabama Crimson Tide Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What You Need To Know:
Alabama's defense didn't play anyone with a passing
game other than Arkansas – giving up 209 yards
through the air in the blowout win – but it was
still a dominant season no matter what finishing No.
1 in total defense, scoring defense, run defense and
pass defense. While there might be a slight step
back after losing Dont'a Hightower, Mark Barron,
Courtney Upshaw, Dre Kirkpatrick and Josh Chapman,
this is still going to be among the nation's best
defenses with a who's who of superstar prospects
across the board. Everything starts up front with
future NFL anchor Jesse Williams on the nose to go
along with very strong, very tough run stoppers on
the front three. The linebacking corps will be every
big as dominant with a swarming group of athletes
who'll keep the big plays to a bare minimum. There
might be a few question marks in the secondary, but
don't expect much of a drop-off, if any, with Dee
Milliner one of the nation's top corners and a nice
influx of JUCO transfers and star recruits to help
fill in the gaps.
Star of the defense: Senior DT Jesse Williams
Tackles: Nico Johnson, 47
Sacks: C.J. Mosley, 2
Interceptions: Dee Milliner, 3
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore FS Vinnie Sunseri
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Adrian Hubbard
Best pro prospect: Williams
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Williams, 2) CB Dee Milliner, 3) LB C.J. Mosley
Strength of the defense: Run Defense, Pass Defense
Weakness of the defense: Depth, Inflated Stats From Playing Weak Offenses
Alabama defensive tackles don't put up big stats and they're hardly the glamour stars, but they're the rocks who make the great defense go. 6-4, 320-pound senior Jesse Williams is once again going to be the anchor who holds down the nose after starting in every game and finishing with 24 tackles. While he's not a pass rusher and he's not going to get into the backfield on a regular basis, his job will be to stick in the middle of the line and hold up against the run. The Australian started out his career as a JUCO transfer out of Western Arizona CC, but he quickly proved that he could handle the workload with a great season. Not even close to hitting his ceiling, he's just scratching the surface and should be a top draft pick in 2013.
Williams will lock everything up on the inside, but junior Ed Stinson will do his part as the Alabama prototype 3-4 end with 6-4, 279-pound size and tremendous athleticism. Like a huge outside linebacker on the line, he's incredibly quick off the ball and has two years of experience making 19 tackles with a sack and five tackles for loss. The Tide linemen aren't used as pass rushers, but he could do more for the line this year while former JUCO transfer Quiton Dial is more like a defensive tackle at 6-6 and 294 pounds. The former East Mississippi CC star made 24 tackles with a sack and three tackles for loss and is a great fit for the rotation like a tackle.
6-3, 285-pound senior Damion Square was terrific last year as a spot starter making 32 tackles with a sack and seven tackles for loss. All back full after suffering a torn ACL three years ago, he's extremely quick for his size and proved last year that he can be a big, strong playmaker to go along with his tremendous motor. He'll be backed up by sophomore Jeoffrey Pagan, who saw time in six games as a true freshman making four tackles. Wanted by all the other big boys, he's an athletic end who should hold up just fine as a run stopper in the rotation.
6-4, 308-pound sophomore Brandon Ivory made five tackles last season but now will play a key role working behind Jesse Williams on the nose. Able to play any of the three spots on the line, he might not be an elite prospect like others on the front three, but he's going to be a factor.
Watch Out For … Williams to grow into a national name. Already front and center in the minds of NFL scouts, he's going to get more and more credit as the anchor and the star of the great defense. He has the tools and talent to be a key part of a pro line and will be get far more play this year.
Strength: Size. The Alabama linemen have one job – lock everyone up. The Tide uses three defensive tackles who can hold up against the run and occupy blockers, and with Williams starring in the middle there won't be any running inside.
Weakness: Pure pass rush. It's by design that the Tide defensive linemen don't get to the quarterback on a regular basis – that's what the back eight is for. There will be plays in the backfield, but that's not what the front three needs to do.
Outlook: Williams is one of the best players in college football and he's good enough to make the run defense phenomenal by himself. Square is another rock against the run and Stinson should be a solid pass rusher with more work. No one will move this group around.
Unit Rating: 9
The healthy return of C.J. Mosley will help make up for the major losses of Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw. The 6-2, 234-pound junior suffered a dislocated hip in the BCS championship win over LSU, but he healed quickly and was more than fine again this offseason. Very fast, very athletic and very disruptive, he's great at getting all over the field in a variety of spots making 37 tackles with two sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss and the pick against the Tigers that led to his injury. While he's built to play on the outside, he'll start out in the middle.
After splitting time with Mosley last season, senior Nico Johnson will get the weakside job all to himself. The 6-3, 245-pounder is a huge athlete who has moved around to several spots to get on the field finishing fourth on the team making 47 tackles with a sack and 6.5 tackles for loss. Great against the run, he doesn't miss a tackle and he has more than enough experience to be one of the leaders of the defense.
Stepping in as a hybrid of outside linebacker and end is sophomore Xzavier Dickson, a 6-3, 240-pound speedster who made three tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss as a true freshman. He came to Alabama as a top defensive end prospect and he'll be used as a pass rusher and a statistical star. While Dickson should grow into a star and a fixture of the linebacking corps, new recruit Dillon Lee will find a role right away on the outside. At 6-4 and 240 pounds he's the prototype with phenomenal athleticism and a great burst. He could become a situational pass rusher early on.
Sophomore Adrian Hubbard is a tall, fast pass rusher who was limited two years ago with injuries but managed to get in a little work last season with nine tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss in limited action. He can play either outside position, and while at 6-6 and 237 pounds he's built for the Jack position he'll see time on the strongside to get on the field right away. He hasn't been unleashed yet but he dominated throughout the offseason and looks ready to dominate.
The Tide have more than enough talented prospects ready to start making bigger impacts in the rotation led by Trey DePriest, one of the nation's top middle linebacker prospects and one of the biggest stars in the great 2011 recruiting class. Big, fast and very, very productive, the Tide got him out of Ohio where he made 218 tackles in his last two seasons and showed off a little of his potential in his first season with 25 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. At 6-2 and 242 pounds he has a great frame and will be one of the team's biggest hitters.
Watch Out For … Hubbard. A defensive lineman working at linebacker, he showed this spring that he's ready to explode as one of the SEC's most dangerous pass rushers. He'll be turned loose and should be a disruptive force.
Strength: Lots and lots and lots of talent. Only Alabama could lose Hightower and Upshaw and possibly be better. The emergence of Mosley, Hubbard and DePriest in bigger roles should more than make up for the loss of last year's two biggest stars, while Johnson should be a statistical star with a full-time starting job to himself.
Weakness: Hightower and Upshaw. The Tide can replace the talent and shouldn't have any problems making up for the lost statistics, but those two were consummate leaders and tone-setters. Hightower led the team with 85 tackles with four sacks and 11 tackles for loss and Upshaw made 52 tackles with 9.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss.
Outlook: The linebackers will be swarming and dominant. The group might be long on high school résumés and a bit short on proven production, but it's loaded with top-shelf talents who can fly all over the field and keep running games locked down. Depth is a wee bit of an issue, but that's nitpicking; there are enough pieces to the puzzle to move around if needed.
Unit Rating: 10
There might be a massive turnover of stars in the secondary, but there's a ton of talent ready to shine helped mostly by junior Dee Milliner, a starter at times over the last two years who was one of the team's star recruits as almost everyone's No. 1 corner prospect a few years ago. One of the team's biggest hitting defensive backs, the 6-1, 196-pounder can play anywhere in the secondary but is a great corner making 27 tackles with three picks and nine broken up passes last year.
Senior Robert Lester joins Milliner as one of the team's only returning starters in the secondary making 39 tackles with two picks. No one threw his way after he came up with eight picks and 52 stops as a sophomore, but he was still extremely active and came up with another strong season. At 6-2 and 210 pounds he has the prototype size at strong safety, and this year he'll be the leader of the secondary.
With Mark Barron gone, sophomore Vinnie Sunseri will get the first look at the open free safety job. A huge hitter, he stepped up in his first season and made 31 tackles in a reserve role, but he didn't do much when the ball was in the air. The 6-0, 217-pounder wasn't the top recruit like other Bama defensive backs were, but he should be one of the team's top tacklers. He'll be battling with sophomore Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix for playing time. The 6-1, 203-pounder was the No. 1 ranked safety prospect last season with the hitting ability to be like another linebacker at times, he's an explosive athlete who could become a whale of a nickel and dime defender after seeing a little bit of time making 11 stops in his first season.
The one big question mark is the other corner job on the other side of Milliner, but star JUCO transfer Deion Belue should settle things down after a great offseason. The 5-11, 178-pounder from NE Mississippi CC was supposed to be a part of the mix a few years ago but ended up going the JUCO route earning All-America honors. Ultra-athletic, he's a turn-key defender who should make plenty of big plays, but junior John Fulton will push for playing time after making five tackles with a broken up pass. At 6-0 and 187 pounds he has decent size and nice skills, but he hasn't lived up to the hype as one of the crown jewels of the 2010 recruiting class. He has all the tools and all the ability, but he hasn't put it all together yet.
There will be a spot somewhere for Travell Dixon, a 6-1, 191-pound Miami native who dominated at Eastern Arizona College last season making four picks on the way to JUCO All-America honors. A corner with next-level talent, he'll work behind Milliner but will likely find starting time right away as a nickel or dime defender.
Watch Out For … the JUCO transfers. Dixon is a great talent who'll find a spot somewhere, while Belue is all but set as a starting corner job. Throw in star freshman prospects Landon Collins and Geno Smith and the Tide has a nice infusion of talent to go along with the established veterans.
Strength: Talent. The secondary is a who's who of four and five-star recruits. Milliner, Lester, and eventually Dix should all play at an All-America level, while the JUCO transfers are good enough to start for just about anyone else. The Tide secondary really has become a factory.
Weakness: Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick. There's talent in the Tide secondary, but outside of maybe Milliner there isn't anyone as good as Barron and Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick might not have picked off any passes, but he was still a superior lock-down defender, while Barron was one of the best safeties in college football over the last decade.
Outlook: Expect more of the same. The secondary finished No. 1 in the nation in pass defense and pass efficiency defense, and while there weren't many teams on the schedule that could throw, the DBs were really that good.
Unit Rating: 9
The team will go with the hot foot once the season starts with senior Jeremy Shelley and junior Cade Foster each getting time last year and this offseason to show what they could do. Shelley nailed 21-of-27 field goals getting two blocked, while Foster was used as the long-distance specialist even though he only connected on 2-of-9 chances and missed everything from beyond 46 yards. And then there's new recruit Adam Griffith who'll get his chances to show what he can do.
The punting game really didn't matter throughout last season, and it's a good thing with junior Cody Mandell averaging just 39.3 yards per kick putting 11 inside the 20 and forcing 17 fair catches. However, he was only called on 39 times and was great at directional kicking. This offseason, though, he started to show more blast and should be a stronger weapon.
The return game was tremendous with Marquis Maze averaging 28.5 yards per kickoff return and 13.2 yards per punt return. Christion Jones did a nice job in the BCS championship finishing the year averaging 11 yards per punt return, and now he'll get the first shot at both return jobs with running back Dee Hart, when healthy, to get a chance on kickoff returns.
Watch Out For … Shelley. While Foster might have more talent and better range, the coaching staff turned to Shelley in the BCS championship and will likely rely on him in tough situations – if there are any – throughout the season.
Strength: Punt coverage. Mandell might not have blasted away too often, but he worked within the system. Alabama allowed a miniscule 4.6 yards per punt return.
Weakness: Sure-thing placekicking. Yeah, Shelley was better in LSU Part 2, but there were still two missed kicks – fine, so one was blocked – and the first game was a disaster. There's still a concern about whether or not the Tide kickers can come through with a game-saving boot.
Outlook: The Alabama special teams played a huge role in the 2009 national title run, but they weren't needed too much last year and didn't pay for the problems against LSU the first time around. The special teams will be fine, and the return game could be great even without Maze, but the kicking game could stand to be stronger.
Unit Rating: 6.5
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