2013 Alabama Preview – Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Alabama Crimson Tide Defense
Preview 2013 - Defense
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What You Need To Know:
Ho hum. Once again, Alabama finished No. 1 in the nation in total defense, run defense and scoring defense despite losing a slew of NFL talent and having to revamp and reload in several key areas. This was supposed to be the year everything came together, and the potential is there to be even nastier as long as the secondary has a decent season. It struggled when LSU's Zach Mettenberger was on fire and Johnny Manziel was Johnny Manziel, but for the most part the defensive backfield was terrific. However, Dee Milliner is gone to the NFL and the corner situation is a wee bit shaky. Fortunately, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and the safeties should pick up the slack. The line has to replace Jesse Williams on the nose, but Ed Stinson leads another big, fast, pro-quality group of defensive tackles working on the front three. The real strength is at linebacker where just about everyone returns including C.J. Mosley and Trey DePriest on the inside and pass rusher Adrian Hubbard along with Xzavier Dickson outside. It's a rare problem to have; Alabama has too many good linebackers for the 3-4 scheme.
Star of the defense: Senior LB C.J. Mosley
Tackles: C.J. Mosley, 107
Sacks: Adrian Hubbard, 7
Interceptions: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, 5
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior CB Deion Belue
Unsung star on the rise: Junior NT Brandon Ivory
Best pro prospect: Mosley
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Mosley, 2) LB Trey DePriest, 3) LB Adrian Hubbard
Strength of the defense: Linebackers, Run Defense
Weakness of the defense: Corner, Pass Rushing Line
The defensive front at Alabama isn't about big stats or lots of glory, but it has to hold up against the run and let the linebackers roam free. The key loss is anchor Jesse Williams, a rock on the nose who was never, ever moved. Trying to take over inside is junior Brandon Ivory, a 6-4, 310-pound veteran backup who made 22 tackles as a part of the rotation with one start against WKU. While he's not as strong as Williams – no one is – but he's quick, tough and active. He'll be backed up by sophomore Darren Lake, a massive 6-3, 324-pounder who saw a little time making three tackles with a tackle for loss. A decent prospect, he's more raw bulk than talent.
6-4, 292-pound senior Ed Stinson looks like the prototype Alabama 3-4 end with his size, quickness and activity against the run. The former outside linebacker bulked up in a huge way over the last few seasons and started every game up front last year making 30 tackles with three sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. While he's not a speed rusher, he works his way into the backfield and has a good motor with the experience to be one of the team's most reliable linemen. On the other side is junior Jeoffrey Pagan, who saw time as a true freshman and last year started to do a little bit more seeing time in every game making 23 tackles with 1.5 sacks and four tackles for loss. At 6-4 and 290 pounds he's a big, tackle-like body up front, but he's an athlete who moves effortlessly and quickly. He should blossom now that it's his turn up.
Sophomore LaMichael Fanning has freakish tools at 6-7 and 270 pounds to go along with a special burst off the ball. Built like an NFL 3-4 end, he can be a dangerous interior pass rusher with a little bit of time, but now he needs more work after coming up with four stops in his limited role. All the tools are there to eventually become an all-star. Trying to see time in the rotation on the other side is 6-2, 287-pound redshirt freshman Dalvin Tomlinson, who's more of a defensive tackle than an end, but he'll do a little of everything. He's not tall, and he's squatty, but he's quick.
Watch Out For … A'Shawn Robinson and Jonathan Allen. There are other fantastic recruits in this class including end Tim Williams and tackle Dee Liner, are big-time recruits who'll soon play huge roles, but Robinson and Allen are special prospects. The 6-4, 320-pound Robinson is an NFL-ready defensive tackle and the best interior prospect in the 2013 recruiting class. Taken away from the Longhorns, the Texas native has it all with shocking athleticism and strength, but he has to get the motor running full-tilt all the time. When he wants it, he's unstoppable. The 6-3, 264-pound Allen could end up as an outside linebacker in the Tide 3-4, but he's a devastating pass rushing end who'll shine no matter where he plays. The 2012 Gatorade Virginia Player of the Year and Parade All-American explodes off the snap and is always going full-bore full-time. He might need a little bulk, but he's a next-level pass rusher who'll be perfect for some NFL's 3-4 scheme.
Strength: Size. It's by design that Alabama uses three defensive tackles up front and dares teams to try running up the middle. There aren't true defensive ends on the line, and that's not a bad thing for a run defense that's bulky and active.
Weakness: Pure pass rushers. Again, it's by design. The pass rushers are at outside linebacker, but it would be nice if there was a bit more of a push into the backfield from the front three. Stinson can get to the quarterback, but he's not a dangerous pass rusher.
Outlook: It's Alabama, so it's going to throw big, tough, NFL-looking defensive linemen into the front three and end up stuffing everyone's running game. Losing Williams hurts more than it might seem, but there should be a good rotation to keep everyone fresh for a line that will once again be a brick wall to get through.
Unit Rating: 8.5
The linebackers should once again be a major strength with almost all the top playmakers returning led by veteran C.J. Mosley on the outside after leading the team with 107 tackles with four sacks, eight tackles for loss and two picks. The 6-2, 232-pound senior suffered a dislocated hip in the 2012 BCS championship win over LSU, but he got everything together quickly and was back to new by the start of last season. Very fast, very active and very experienced, he's great at getting all over the field in a variety of ways in the middle or at either outside spot working mostly as a weakside defender earning all-star honors.
Back at his spot in the middle is junior Trey DePriest, an NFL-looking 6-2, 245-pound veteran who finished second on the team with 59 tackles with four tackles for loss. One of the nation's top middle linebacker prospects and one of the biggest stars in the great 2011 recruiting class, he's big, fast and very, very productive with great range and activity. A terrific leader and huge hitter, he's ultra-reliable inside. Adding even more side to the equation is 6-2, 259-pound sophomore Regie Ragland, a huge special teamer and part-time defender who made eight tackles in his limited time. Arguably the nation's top linebacker prospect in last year's class, he's big, athletic and fast. He'll eventually be the leader of the corps.
The team's most dangerous pass rusher will work at strongside linebacker. The 6-6, 252-pound Adrian Hubbard is a tall, fast defensive end working on the outside with good range and experience. Not just a playmaker into the backfield, the junior is good against the run and holds up well now that he's healthy – he was banged up throughout the first part of his career – making 41 tackles with a team-leading seven sacks and 11 tackles for loss. Unleashed last season, he started to show glimpses of what he can do. Behind him on the strongside is redshirt freshman Ryan Anderson, the nation's best outside linebacker in last year's class. While he'd normally be a defensive end, he'll be a part of the four-man linebacking corps with great range and outstanding burst.
6-3, 265-pound junior Xzavier Dickson is a speedster at the Jack position, growing from a top defensive end prospect and turning into a dangerous linebacker coming up with 33 tackles with 3.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. A superstar hybrid prospect, he could be more of a pass rusher if needed, but he works extremely well as a run stopper with great instincts and range. He doesn't miss a stop. Waiting in the wings to be a part of the equation is sophomore Denzell Devall, a nice backup in his first year making 18 tackles with two sacks showing a world of upside and potential. He'll find a starting spot sooner than later.
Watch Out For … Reuben Foster, the nation's best middle linebacker prospect. The 6-1, 244-pounder out of Auburn escaped the Tigers and was one of the crown jewels of the 2013 Tide class. He has the ability to do it all with peerless tackling skills and great pass rushing ability. Fast, active and athletic, he has it all.
Strength: Experience and talent. This is an NFL linebacking corps with Hubbard, Mosley, DePriest and Dickson all starters at the next level if they were in the big league this year. Even more frightening is that there's more skill and upside behind them.
Weakness: The Tide doesn't play more than four linebackers at a time. The pass rushing needs to be a little stronger when Hubbard isn't doing his thing, and mobile quarterbacks like Johnny Manziel and Everett Golson could ball a bit against this group, but that's nitpicking.
Outlook: This is the best linebacking corps in the country and it might not even be close. Nico Johnson is gone after finishing third on the team with 55 tackles, but everyone else is back and ready to be the stars both as pass rushers and against the run. With tremendous depth – a concern going into last year - this group is loaded.
Unit Rating: 10
The pass defense was good overall allowing just eight touchdown passes, but it had problems with LSU, Texas A&M and Georgia and now needs to reload with star Dee Milliner gone. Looking to try being the new No. 1 cover-corner is senior Deion Belue, who has been fine, but didn't do enough when teams tried to stay away from Milliner. The 5-11, 183-pound former JUCO transfer is ultra-athletic, good at getting around the ball and with the upside to make lots and lots of big plays. He made 40 tackles with two sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss, but he has to be more consistent. While he's not Milliner, he'll get his chances against SEC No. 1 targets unless senior John Fulton steps up and lives up to his prep hype. At 6-0 and 186 pounds he has good size and nice skills, but one of the crown jewels of the 2010 recruiting class only has 23 career tackles and has yet to come up with a pick. All the talent is there, and he has the speed and quickness, but he has yet to put it all together.
Ready to be the new signature star of the secondary is junior Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, a 6-1, 208-pound rangy safety out of Orlando who was the nation's No. 1 safety prospect in the 2011 class. With 3 tackles and a team-leading five picks with four broken up passes, he's playing up to the hype and talent coming up with an interception in each of the last three games last year to go along with seven tackles in the BCS championship. An explosive athlete with great smarts and the uncanny ability to always be around the ball, he should do even more.
Clinton-Dix is set at one safety spot, but it'll be a fight for the free safety gig. 6-0, 210-pound junior Vinnie Sunseri is a huge hitter and a decent all-around playmaker, starting to do more when the ball was in the air with two picks and three broken up passes while tying for fourth on the team with 54 tackles. Also a great special teamer, he'll play a big role in a variety of ways, and he could end up as a nickel or dime defender if 6-0, 215-pound sophomore Landon Collins takes over. The former Parade All-American was ranked by some as the nation's No. 1 safety prospect in last year's class with size, quickness and huge hitting ability. The Louisiana native got away from LSU, and now he should be a huge stat-sheet filler after showing a little bit of what he could do making 17 tackles in a limited role. He's way, way too good to not start somewhere in the secondary.
Looking to provide a push at corner is sophomore Geno Smith, a
6-0, 186-pound spot-starter who came up with nine
tackles with two broken up passes in his limited
time. A top prospect last year, he's fast and has a
nose for the ball, but his best attribute is his raw quickness; he can mirror anyone. Also in the corner rotation is 5-11, 180-pound sophomore Bradley Sylve, a former wide receiver who saw a little time in the defensive backfield last year making six tackles with two broken up passes. An outstanding athlete, he's still making the transition to defense, and he's still figuring out the subtle nuances, but there's too much speed and pop to keep off the field.
Watch Out For … Maurice Smith. While Anthony Averett and Jonathan Cook are tremendous corner prospects and will all soon be in the rotation, it's Smith who's the best of a good lot. It's a need position, and Smith could be thrown to the wolves sooner than later with 6-0, 180-pound size and outstanding instincts. It always seems like he sniffs out plays a half-click before everyone else, and he can provide a big pop when he gets there.
Strength: The big plays. The Bama defense only gave up eight touchdown passes on the year and 18 picks. The only game allowing two touchdown passes came in the loss to Texas A&M, but there's a reason Johnny Manziel was good enough to win the Heisman.
Weakness: Corner. It's not an awful situation, but there's no Dee Milliner. The new star of the New York Jet secondary made 54 tackles with two picks and 20 broken up passes in a terrific season, showing the ability to stay with the speed receivers along with the more physical one like Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert. Belue and Fulton are a drop off.
Outlook: The secondary will be fine because the rest of the defense is so fantastic, but it could take a little while to secure the corners. The safeties will be fantastic with Clinton-Dix on an All-America track, but teams are going to test the Tide on the outside until the corners can prove they can make plays.
Unit Rating: 7.5
Okay, Cade Foster, let's see what you can do. Jeremy Shelley was terrific hitting all 11 of his field goal attempts, but they all were within 38 yards. Foster, a senior, has mostly been a long distance specialist, but he missed everything from beyond 46 yards two years ago and connected on just 4-of-9 shots last year missing a few from inside 50 yards and getting one blocked. However, he blasted away on shots from 51 yards away against Arkansas, 52 against Florida Atlantic and 51 against Michigan, and now he has to show he can nail the midrange kicks, too.
The punting game turned out to be among the best in the country with senior Cody Mandell averaging 44.3 yards per kick putting 19 inside the 20. The coverage team helped the cause, but Mandell stepped up his game after averaging under 40 yards per pop two years ago.
Christion Jones came up with a big year on punt returns averaging 10.1 yards per pop, but he was even better when he got his chances on kickoffs averaging 26.6 yards per try highlighted by a touchdown against Ole Miss. However, he gave way during the year to Cyrus Jones, a speedster who averaged 25 yards per try.
Watch Out For … Cole Mazza. Because Alabama doesn't get enough talent, it's also bringing in the nation's top long snapper. It might not seem like a big deal, but his arrival fills a hole with long-time snapper Carson Tinker done.
Strength: Punting. Mandell turned into a weapon last year, and while he put six into the end zone, he proved to be a big help for a defense that didn't need much assistance to begin with.
Weakness: Foster from midrange. It's not a given that he can't do it, but he hasn't been used much for anything but big blasts. Shelley was ultra-reliable.
Outlook: The special teams are solid at worst, fantastic at best depending on who's getting the big return. Foster might be a wee bit of a question mark, but he'll be fine. The kickoff coverage could stand to be better, but all-around this should be yet another positive strength.
Unit Rating: 7
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