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2008 Alabama Preview - Defense
Alabama FS Rashard Johnson
Alabama FS Rashard Johnson
Posted Apr 11, 2008 2008 Preview - Alabama Crimson Tide Defense

Alabama Crimson Tide

Preview 2008
- Defense

- 2008 CFN Alabama Preview | 2008 Bama Offense 
- 2008 Bama Defense | 2008 Bama Depth Chart 
- 2007 CFN Alabama Preview | 2006 CFN Alabama Preview 

What you need to know: The defense was solid last season and was all set to take another step forward this year until the linebacking corps took a hit. Ezekial Knight was forced to quit football thanks to a heart condition, Jimmy Johns was booted for allegedly selling cocaine, and Prince Hall was suspended for violating team rules. Fortunately, Rolondo McClain is back while the recruiting class should bring in instant help from Jerrell Harris and Courtney Upshaw. The line in the 3-4 is fine, but nothing special without Wallace Gilberry and his 10 sacks and 27 tackles for loss. A pass rusher has to emerge. FS Rashad Johnson leads a fast secondary that'll get a boost from freshmen Mark Barron and Alonzo Lawrence.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Rashad Johnson, 94
Sacks: Lorenzo Washington, 3
Interceptions: Rashad Johnson, 6

Star of the defense: Junior FS Rashad Johnson
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior DE Bobby Greenwood
Unsung star on the rise: Freshman SS Mark Barron
Best pro prospect: Johnson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Johnson, 2) LB Rolondo McClain, 3) NT Lorenzo Washington
Strength of the defense: Tackle, the freshmen
Weakness of the defense:
Linebacker, sure-thing pass rusher

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The run defense will once again revolve around the nose where 6-4, 283-pound junior Lorenzo Washington might be more like an end, but has been a rock-solid tackle, He started 12 games last year making 36 tackles with three sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss, but his real worth is holding up everything inside and allowing everyone else to work. While he's good at getting into the backfield, he's becoming a bigger star against the run.

Working at one end will be Bobby Greenwood, a 6-5, 267-pounder who spent plenty of time inside as a nose guard and a tackle, and now will be used on the outside in the 3-4. He was a spot starter throughout last year making 20 tackles with a sack and 4.5 tackles for loss, and now he has to be more consistent. He has the speed and quickness to do far more.

On the other side will be 6-4, 286-pound junior Brandon Deaderick, the equivalent of an extra tackle at end. A good prospect when he came onto the scene, he came up with a nice year making 22 tackles with two sacks and three tackles for loss. He's not a top pass rusher, but he's productive.

Projected Top Reserves: One of the new stars coming out of spring ball is 6-1, 300-pound sophomore Josh Chapman, one of the team's biggest linemen and a major-league prospect. He saw a little time in three games last season making just one tackle, but he'll be a regular in the rotation and should allow the defense to go to a 4-3 on occasion as he plays tackle next to Washington.

6-2, 317-pound sophomore Alfred McCullough will technically be called an end, but he's a tackle. One of the most active players on the line at the end of spring ball, he's an active pass rusher with the size and bulk to make plenty of plays against the run. He'll rotate in and out of spots inside and out.

6-3, 263-pound sophomore Nick Gentry was a good recruit who saw a little bit of time in one game last year. An active pass rushing prospect with the strength to hold up against the run like a tackle, he'll start out working behind Deadrick.

The team's top recruit for the line is 6-5, 380-pound JUCO transfer Terrence Cody, a big, BIG body who can actually move a little bit despite his enormous size. He made a few plays on the line at Gulf Coast CC, but his job will be to sit in the middle of the line and not budge.

Watch Out For ... plenty of switching around between the 3-4 and the 4-3. With so many question marks at linebacker and with tackle a potential strength, the defensive coaches will likely want four linemen on the field more often than not.
: Run stuffing. The ends are like smallish tackles, and while Washington isn't all that big, there's bulk in McCullough and Cody to step in when teams try to go smashmouth. There might not be any certain all-stars, but running inside on this group won't be easy.
A pure pass rusher. Wallace Gilberry came up with 10 of the team's 24 sacks, and he's gone. Nick Saban teams always generate pressure, but this one doesn't have the one sure-thing end who'll make quarterbacks worry.
Outlook: Last year the line had to move to a 3-4 out of need, but this year it might have to be a 4-3 on talent and potential. If nothing else, there will be a good rotation of mid-sized run stuffers, and with some big bulk waiting in the wings to clog things up on the inside. A pass rusher needs to emerge and there must be more pressure generated from all three spots, but overall this will be a solid, but unspectacular line.
Rating: 7


Projected Starters: There are several big issues in the linebacking corps, but one sure thing is 6-4, 255-pound sophomore Rolando McClain at one of the inside spots. All he did was step in as a true freshman and finish fourth on the team with 75 tackles, a sack, five tackles for loss and two interceptions as he established himself as one of the SEC's brightest new defensive stars. Very tough,  very fast, and a huge hitter, he lived up to the prep hype and now is poised and ready to be an All-American.

Playing a hybrid of linebacker and defensive end in the Jack position will be Brandon Fanney, a 6-4, 241-pound junior who made seven tackles and two quarterback hurries in a limited role. More of a defensive end by trade, he'll need to grow into a pass rusher and a disruptive force.

Working on the strong side in place of Ezekial Knight will be 6-4, 214-pound sophomore Chavis Williams, a special teamer so far who made two tackles in his true freshman season. While he'll be asked to hold up against the run, he'll use his speed to get into the backfield from the outside. He was a pass rushing terror as a high school defensive end and was a good tight end.

Taking over on the weakside will be 6-4, 223-pound junior Cory Reamer, a safety who could play either outside linebacker spot if needed. A special teamer last year, he has excellent athleticism and the potential to become a good hitter with his size, but he hasn't been able to stay healthy.

Projected Top Reserves: It's been an interesting off-season. Projected starting linebacker Prince Hall made 58 tackles last season as the starter in five games, but he was suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. He'll be back after a suspension, but he'll be missed early on. Gone is Jimmy Johns, a decent-looking reserve who got nailed for allegedly selling cocaine. The third big blow was the loss of Ezekial Knight, the starter on the strongside who made 64 tackles with three sacks and 11 tackles for loss, but sadly, he's done with football after having issues with a heart condition.

Almost certain to step in right away and play is star recruit Jerrell Harris, a 6-3, 215-pound guided missile who was considered by almost everyone as one of the top five linebacker prospects in the nations. A tremendous tackler who made 275 stops over the last two years, he'll be a difference maker sooner than later on the outside.

Also coming in from the recruiting class are Don'ta Hightower and Courtney Upshaw. The 6-4, 250-pound Hightower is a pure inside defender who made 168 tackles, and ran for 875 yards and 19 touchdowns, on his way to being named Tennessee's Mr. Football. The 6-2, 230-pound Upshaw was a star high school end but will likely move to linebacker on a full-time basis. He's too athletic to not be a star at one of the outside spots.

Sophomore Charlie Higgenbotham is mostly a special teamer, but he's also one of the team's most productive returning reserves making 12 tackles in ten games. Only 6-1 and 211 pounds, he's a quick player on the inside behind McClain.

6-2, 225-pound junior Eryk Anders has seen a little bit of time over the last few seasons, but he's mostly a special teamer. The former star high school defensive tackle and running back has made just eight career tackles in 18 games, but he'll start out working behind Williams on the strongside where he'll need to play a bigger role until the freshmen are ready.

Watch Out For ... the freshmen. McClain is a no-doubter of a talent, but in a big hurry there could be major changes. Bama might have the SEC's most talented linebacking corps ... in 2010. The faster the new guys can shine, the better.
: Speed. It's a Saban defense, so there will be plenty of speed and athleticism to go around among the linebackers. While there are some beefed up safeties, there are also some tremendously quick undersized high school defensive linemen.
Veterans. This was an issue going into last year and things turned out fine, but with all the issues off the field, experience is really an issue now.
Outlook: This would've been a killer corps had Hall, Knight and Johns been part of the mix, and while Hall still could be back on the field, it's going to take a big year from Harris, along with a few other fellow true freshmen, to make the corps a strength. This isn't going to be a big-time problem area, players like Fanney and Williams have nice potential, but it'll definitely be a question mark.
Rating: 6.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: Senior Rashad Johnson didn't exactly come from out of nowhere, he had a reputation for being a big-time hitter after making 33 tackles as a reserve. And then the former running back went ballistic making a team-leading 94 tackles with 5.5 tackles for loss, six interceptions and eight broken up passes. The big question mark was whether or not he could make big plays when the ball was in the air, and the 6-0, 187-pound All-America-caliber free safety came through.

The one new face in the mix is at strong safety where junior Justin Woodall will get the first look, but will be pushed hard for the job. The 6-2, 224-pounder is built more like a smallish SEC linebacker, and he's fast enough to be used at free safety if needed. He's also good enough at baseball to get the New York Mets interested, but he's a football player. Mostly a special teamer so far, he made six tackles as a freshman and didn't see much time last year.

5-9, 193-pound junior Javier Arenas is the team's star return man, and he's also a solid defender making 20 tackles with two tackles for loss in a start and backup duty here and there. One of the team's quickest players, he'll have to use his athleticism, along with his good size, to do more when the ball is in the air. He only has one career broken up pass.

The No. 1 corner will be Kareem Jackson, a 5-11, 185-pound athlete who was a good recruit and a major factor as a true freshman making 66 tackles with three interceptions, six broken up passes and four tackles for loss. An excellent open field tackler, he needs to be just a little more consistent in pass coverage, which will come in time, to grow into a superstar.

Projected Top Reserves: Woodall might have the starting strong safety job going into the fall, but true freshman Mark Barron might take it over. The 6-2, 215-pound super-recruit has phenomenal athleticism and the type of ability that'll make him too hard to keep on the sidelines.

Most likely working as a nickel back early on will be true freshman Alonzo Lawrence, an elite corner prospect with 6-1, 190-pound size and good ball-hawking and kick returning potential. While he'll come in pushing for a starting corner job, he might be used sparingly early on before taking over a starting spot next year.

Former running back Ali Sharrif turned in a good year as a backup making 21 tackles with a tackle for loss. He's one of the team's most experienced backup defensive backs, but he'll have to make some big plays early on to find a role outside of the special teams. The 5-9, 197-pounder is one of the team's fastest players.

Watch Out For ... strong safety to be up in the air. It's too important a position to not be set in stone, and while Johnson might seem like a natural to move over and see a little time, it'll be a newcomer to the spot that'll need to come through.
: Johnson. There's experience returning, but there needs to be a steadying force to work around. That's Johnson, who hits everything and has the range to help out the corners.
Teams that can throw the ball. The overall numbers looked nice, and the secondary did a terrific job of picking off passes, but it helped to play a slew of passing-challenged teams. LSU threw a ton and Colorado went nuts, but there were several games against weak passing games. This crew will have to prove it from day one against Clemson, but on the plus side, there aren't any Texas Techs on the slate.
Outlook: The numbers will be better than the secondary. Even with some issues at strong safety and with the corners merely above average, there will be plenty of picks and plenty of big stops. Johnson is a great one and there's plenty of speed to go around, but the key will be run support. How much will the DBs have to help out the linebackers?
Rating: 7

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Junior Leigh Tiffin stepped in and stepped up nailing a whopping 25 of 34 field goal attempts showing excellent range. Now he'll have to be consistent after missing four kicks inside 40 yards. However, with a big leg, he nailed two from 50+ and was a solid 10 of 15 from beyond 40.

Junior punter P.J. Fitzgerald has to be better. He has been great in placements putting 39 kicks inside the 20 over the past two years, but he hasn't aired it out and followed up a 38.2-yard-per-kick average with a 38.7-yard average. On the plus side, the punt returns were kept to a minimum.

Junior CB Javier Arenas is one of the nation's best all-around return men averaging 15.4 yards per punt return and 24.3 yards per kickoff return. He's a quick weapon who's a threat for a touchdown every time he has the ball in his hands.

Watch Out For ... Tiffin to be better. With age comes consistency, and he has been through enough to be more consistent and more reliable. He has the leg, and now he'll do more with it.
: Arenas. The offense didn't always get things in gear last season, but Arenas did all he could as a punt returner. Now teams will do everything possible to stay away from him.
Fitzgerald's length. The coaching staff has kept things conservative in the punting game, but once in a while it would be nice if the junior could air it out.
Outlook: The special teams are going to be good as long as Arenas does what he did last year. Tiffin is a bomber, while Fitzgerald is just above-average enough to be reliable on placements. The coverage teams were fantastic, and should be again.
Rating: 8