2007 Alabama Preview - Defense

Posted Jul 30, 2007

Preview 2007 Alabama Crimson Tide Defense

Alabama Crimson Tide

Preview 2007
- Defense

- 2007 Alabama Preview | 2007 Bama Offense Preview
2007 Bama Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Alabama Preview 

What you need to know: Former Florida State defensive coordinator Kevin Steele came in and switched things up to a 3-4 in an attempt to jump-start a woeful pass rush by getting more production from the outside linebackers, led by a hybrid position of defensive lineman and linebacker, manned by Keith Saunders. Wallace Gilberry and Bobby Greenwood look the part of top ends, and now they have to start producing. The biggest problem is tackle, where former backup center Brian Motley, who looked great this spring, has to be an anchor for everything to work right. The back eight should be excellent, led by all-star corner Simeon Castille.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Juwan Simpson, 86
Sacks: Wallace Gilberry, 3.5
Interceptions: Simeon Castille, 6

Star of the defense: Senior CB Simeon Castile
Player that has to step up and become a star: Redshirt freshman DT Brian Motley
Unsung star on the rise: Freshman CB Kareem Jackson
Best pro prospect: Castille
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Castille, 2) LB Prince Hall, 3) DE Wallace Gilberry
Strength of the defense: Pass defense, linebacker potential
Weakness of the defense:
Tackle, sure-thing pass rusher

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: Is Brian Motley the key to the team's season? In the new 3-4 alignment, a stud is needed at tackle to be the anchor everything else works around, and the former center appeared to be a good one this spring. The coaching staff has raved about him, but at 6-1 and 284 pounds, he'll have to play big on the nose.

Back at one end spot is 6-3, 264-pound senior Wallace Gilberry, who'll have even more responsibility against the run. While he's good at getting into the backfield, with 3.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss, he doesn't do it enough and despite his 43 tackles, is just average against the run. He needs to step up his overall play to help the anemic pass rush.

On the other side is 6-5, 260-pound junior Bobby Greenwood after making 27 tackles, 2.5 sacks and five tackles for loss. While he had his moments, he didn't show enough consistency to take the heat off Gilberry on a regular basis. He has the speed and quickness to grow into a dangerous playmaker along with doing more against the run.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-4, 285-pound sophomore Lorenzo Washington will be a regular in the rotation on the nose. He bulked up over the last year, and now he has to stay healthy enough to push Motley for time.

Sophomore Brandon Deaderick got on the field on a regular basis over the second half of the year and finished with two tackles. A good prospect with excellent size, the 6-4, 271-pounder is more like a tackle than an end. That's a plus in the new scheme.

On the way to possible become a factor right away is 6-3, 280-pound freshman Luther Davis, the team's biggest recruit. With size, pass rushing ability, and tremendous interior quickness, he could play any one of the three spots.

Watch Out For ... Motley. With no real tackle options after the loss of Dominic Lee and Jeremy Clark, it's sink or swim with the redshirt freshman. While he appears to be a good one, he'll need time to grow into the job.
: Potential on the end. Gilberry and Greenwood certainly look the part, but can they play like it? They have the size with good pass rushing potential, and they'll have to do a little of everything for the line from stopping the run to improving the lousy pass rush.
Size. The ends have good size, but where's the 300-pound rock to bottle things up against the run? Nick Saban didn't always have a bunch of space-eaters at LSU, preferring to go with quick, athletic defenders. While that's fine, the Tide might struggle early on against anyone with a good line. Arkansas and Georgia come up on the schedule awfully quick.
Outlook: The move to a 3-4 might be done out of necessity more than anything else. There aren't any tackles. A third string center, Brian Motley, has become the nose guard and the one everything needs to revolve around, while Wallace Gilberry and Brian Greenwood have to play like the pass rushers they're supposed to be. The developed depth is non-existent, meaning the opening two games against Western Carolina and Vanderbilt will be vital before the teeth of the schedule starts to kick in.
Rating: 6.5


Projected Starters: The only returning starter is 5-11, 255-pound sophomore Prince Hall, and he's a good one. He finished third on the team with 77 tackles and was one of the team's best playmakers in the backfield with two sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. A big hitter with tremendous range, he should be an all-star and the leader of the linebacking corps.

6-2, 246-pound senior Keith Saunders will be the fourth linebacker in the 3-4, playing part defensive end, part linebacker. Used mostly as a situational pass rusher last year, he didn't do much to get into the backfield with just a sack and three tackles for loss to go along with 16 tackles. With more space to move, he needs to be one of the team's most disruptive forces even though he'll mostly be used on the inside.

Starting on the strongside will be 6-4, 238-pound junior Ezekial Knight, a former defensive lineman who made four tackles and a tackle for loss before getting hurt and missing the final eight games. An interesting overall talent, he started his career as a receiver, catching 21 passes for 224 yards and a touchdown in his first two seasons. The hope is for him to generate more of a pass rush.

On the weakside will be 6-2, 237-pound senior Darren Mustin after making eight tackles in a limited role. While he has yet to do much over the course of his career, the hope is for him to be a factor in pass coverage and to use his experience in the program to be a steady defender.

Projected Top Reserves: While Saunders is all but cemented as the starter in the fourth linebacker spot, 6-5, 253-pound sophomore Brandon Fanney showed this spring that he's good enough to see plenty of time. He got on the field for one game last year and didn't do anything, and now the former defensive end should fit into the new position and become a regular pass rusher.

While 6-1, 211-pound sophomore Zach Schreiber isn't all that big, he's very quick and extremely athletic. A pure pass rusher, setting the Louisiana state high school single season record for sacks in a season with 26. He'll start out on the strongside behind Knight.

6-2, 221-pound sophomore Eryk Anders has a little bit of experience with four tackles in eight games. He started to see a little time over the second half of the season, the former star high school defensive tackle will be a regular on the weakside behind Mustin.

Watch Out For ... the Jack. That's the name of the new position, a hybrid of linebacker and defensive lineman, which if all goes according to plan, will be the glamour position of the defense. Saunders should be a nice fit, while Fanney appears to be a natural for the job.
: Potential on the end. Gilberry and Greenwood certainly look the part, but can they play like it? They have the size with good pass rushing potential, and they'll have to do a little of everything for the line from stopping the run to improving the lousy pass rush.
Sure-thing playmakers. Even with a great year from Jurawn Simpson, the over linebacking play dropped last year after losing stars DeMeco Ryans and Freddie Roach. Now the defense is shifting to a 3-4 even though the linebackers might be the weakness of the defense.
Outlook: Only one starter, Prince Hall returns, but the linebacking corps will be asked to be the playmakers of the defense. Converted defensive ends Keith Saunders and Ezekial Knight have to be consistent pass rushers, and if they're not, that'll only add to overall uncertainty to worry about early on.
Rating: 7

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: Two starters return, led by senior corner Simeon Castille, who turned into one of the SEC's best shutdown corners. At 6-1 and 189 pounds, he's a big defender who beats up receivers and makes plenty of plays with six interceptions, six broken up passes, three recovered fumbles and 4.5 tackles for loss. He's also great in run support, finishing fourth on the team with 71 tackles.

On the other side will be 6-2, 184-pound junior Lionel Mitchell, who took over the job on the right side this spring. While he'll have to battle to keep the job, he has good experience with 25 tackles and four interceptions last season, highlighted by a 50-yard pick six. He's a physical defender who'll push people around.

Back at his starting spot at strong safety will be 6-0, 200-pound senior Marcus Carter after making 31 tackles. He needs to do more against the pass and he has to be more productive overall. He's been good, but he's hardly irreplacable.

Starting at free safety will be 6-0, 186-pound junior Rashad Johnson, a
big-time hitter who made 33 tackles as a reserve. The former running back has good range and isn't afraid to throw his body around, and now he has to start making a few big plays when the ball is in the air.

Projected Top Reserves: Pushing very, very hard for the starting corner job on the other side of Castille is Eric Grey, an unused senior who was in the hunt until he had hamstring problems. He's another big, strong corner option who'll see plenty of action.

The future at corner is true freshman Kareem Jackson, who got to school early and looked strong. An excellent athlete with decent pop, he'll spend the year as an understudy and will likely take over a starting job next year.

Sophomore Justin Woodall saw a little time as a freshman making six tackles with a broken up passes. At 6-1 and 213 pounds, he's a bigger free safety option than Johnson with enough speed and overall ability to play either safety spot.

Watch Out For ... a rotation at the second cornerback spot. Castille is a star on one side, but there will be several players working to come up with stability on the other side. Mitchell has the experience, but Grey, Jackson and Marquis Johnson will all see time.
: Castille. He erases one side of the field and is a battler against everyone's number one receiver. He allows the secondary to focus on other things.
The safeties against the pass. Carter and Johnson can hit, but they combined to make zero interceptions and with no broken up passes in their time. The Bama safeties will be good in coverage, and now they need to start making more big plays.
Outlook: Led by Simeon Castille, the secondary should be the strength of the D after finishing 19th in the nation in pass defense. Replacing top tackling safety Jeffrey Dukes won't be easy, but there are options to play around with, along with decent experience. The key will be the second corner spot, which will get picked on early and often with everyone staying away from Castille.
Rating: 7.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Known as "Money" for all his big kicks two years ago, senior Jamie Christensen came up with a nice 2006 hitting 13 of 17 field goal chances, despite having a torn groin muscle, going ten for ten inside 30 yards. He doesn't have too much in the way of range, even though he connected consistently from around 40 yards this spring, and he'll have to battle with Leigh Tiffin, who connected on eight of 13 field goal attempts.

Sophomore punter P.J. Fitzgerald after a better year than the stats show. He only averaged 38.2 yards per kick, but he only had one touchback, forced 14 fair catches, and put 19 inside the 20.

Watch Out For ... no real challenge for the placekicking job. Christensen has been so good from short range that he'll be next to impossible to phase out completely, but Tiffin will get every chance to win the job. Forget it. Christensen looked great this spring.
: Fitzgerald's direction and consistency. He did a great job of placing the ball where needed and had a surprisingly solid freshman year. He came through when desperately needed and was one of the team's bigger surprises.
Consistent kick returns. The Tide struggled mightily in the return game, and now it'll be up to sophomore Javier Arenas to be far better after averaging 19.1 yards per kickoff return and 9.2 yards per punt return, despite taking two back for scores.
Outlook: The special teams are better than they might appear. Jamie Christensen and Leigh Tiffin are rock-solid kickers, and P.J. Fitzgerald will be a nice punter for the next three years. Javier Arenas should be better at returning kicks now that he knows what he's doing.
Rating: 8


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 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 30, 2007
2007 Alabama Preview
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