2010 Alabama Preview – Defense
Alabama S Mark Barron
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Alabama Crimson Tide Defense
Preview 2010 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: Kirby Smart's defense was suffocating last season finishing second in the nation in almost every major category (total defense, scoring defense, run defense, and finished tenth in pass defense), and now it's time to do some retooling. The linebacking corps loses Butkus Award winning linebacker and leader Rolando McClain, but the return of Dont'a Hightower from a knee injury will ease the pain. He'll be flanked by several excellent athletes in a strong rotation, while the big front three will be a brick wall against the run. However, top pro prospect Marcell Dareus, a first-round talent at defensive end, is going to be under the microscope all year long, if he's allowed back on the field, after attending a party thrown by an agent. The secondary will be the biggest concern early on losing three NFL-caliber starters, but they'll be replaced by more future pros as the talent level has been raised even higher. Safety Mark Barron, the one returning starter in the defensive backfield, has the Thorpe Award talent and should be one of the team's key leaders.
Star of the defense: Junior S Mark Barron
Tackles: Mark Barron, 76
Sacks: Marcell Dareus, 6.5
Interceptions: Mark Barron, 7
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore CB B.J. Scott
Unsung star on the rise: Junior NT Josh Chapman
Best pro prospect: Junior DE/DT Marcell Dareus (if eligible)
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Barron, 2) LB Dont'a Hightower, 3) Dareus
Strength of the defense: NFL Talent, Run Defense
Weakness of the defense: Secondary Experience, The Dareus Distraction
Projected Starters: It's one of the biggest questions and controversies of the offseason. What did Marcell Dareus do and can he get back on the team? The defensive MVP of the BCS Championship was suspended until all the facts could come together surrounding his involvement with the now-infamous party involving an agent. Assuming this gets cleared up and he's back on the team, he'll be the centerpiece of the revamped defensive front working as a massive 3-4 end with 6-4, 306-pound size and the speed to be the team's leading pass rusher with 6.5 sacks. Active, he also made 33 tackles on the year with an interception returned for a touchdown against Texas, and while he's not a speed rusher by any stretch, he gets into the backfield on a regular basis and has the combination of skills and talent that NFL types drool over.
Junior Josh Chapman isn't Terrence Cody, but he's a perfect fit on the nose with 6-1, 310-pound size and 30 games of experience. He saw plenty of action when the way-too-large Cody needed to take a breather, and he came up with a nice year making 17 tackles as a strong anchor up front. One of the team's strongest players, he can't be moved around and will be the anchor for the front seven.
After spending his career as a decent reserve, 6-3, 270-pound senior Luther Davis will finally get a shot at the limelight on the end. A top recruit for the program, he has been decent in flashes and has logged in more than enough time to be ready having played in 34 games in the last three years. He's not a pass rusher, but he's a good run stopper who made 11 tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss last year.
Projected Top Reserves: Considering Marcell Dareus is doing his best Reggie Bush impersonation off the field, sophomore tight end Undra Billingsley will have the spotlight on as a possible starter at the left end. The 6-2, 269-pounder saw a little time on offense last year, but he was brought to the program as a top defensive end prospect and isn't going to have to do much of anything to make the transition. He's more of a speed rusher than Dareus, but he won't be as strong against the run.
The sky's the limit for sophomore Damion Square, a 6-3, 272-pound former linebacker who beefed up and showed all the potential in the world as a dangerous pass rushing end, but he tore his ACL early on in the year and missed the rest of the season. On the plus side, the injury happened early enough that he got time to rehab, heal, and be ready for the year. He might not be full-bore quite yet, but he'll play a big role in the end rotation.
At 6-4 and 323 pounds, sophomore Kerry Murphy is a massive widebody for the interior of the line. A huge recruit, he was all set to be a major part of the middle of the line in 2007, but he had to go to Hargrave Military Academy to get everything in order before getting to Bama, and now he's finally about to play a big role. He saw a little time in six games making three tackles with a quarterback hurry.
Watch Out For … Chapman. Yeah, the Dareus thing is a distraction and is one of the keys to the 2010 Bama season, but there's talent to fill in the gaps. The play of Chapman as a replacement for Mount Cody on the nose is every bit as important, and while he might not have the starting experience, he has the All-SEC talent to potentially do even more than the overweight (but uber-talented) Baltimore Raven.
Strength: Size. Here's the Alabama recruiting pitch. The NFL likes big, quick, versatile linemen who can line up as a 3-4 end or as a one-gap tackle in the 4-3. Alabama tends to crank out big, quick, versatile linemen who can do everything the pro scouts like to see. This is a very big, very strong front three that can do a little bit of everything well.
Weakness: A slight drop-off. Chapman is going to be great and he might even be an All-SEC star, but it's asking way too much to be Terrence Cody. Lorenzo Washington and Brandon Deaderick, might not have been all-timers, but they were long-time producers and the unsung rocks who helped clean up everything up to allow the linebackers to get all the glory. Bama is full of talent, but this line is nowhere near the level as last year's.
Outlook: As long as the agents can stay away for little while, the Bama defensive front should once again be terrific. It might not be as good as last year's front three, but that might only mean the Tide goes from having the No. 2 run defense in the nation to, say, No. 7. No one will run on this group, and while it would be nice to have a devastating pass rusher who could bother quarterbacks on a regular basis, it's not a must in this defense.
Unit Rating: 8
Projected Starters: If Don't'a Hightower is 100% healthy, he'll be every bit the stat-sheet filler, if not more so, than Rolando McClain was in the middle. The junior was on his way to a terrific season making 16 tackles with a sack and four tackles for loss before tearing his knee and being out the rest of the way. Now he'll move from the weakside to the middle where he's not going to need to fly around as much, but can hold up in the middle and make tackle after tackle against the run. At 6-4 and 260 pounds he has great size and great range, even with his knee problem, and he has the hitting ability making 64 stops in 2008.
With Hightower in the middle, sophomore Nico Johnson will hold down the weakside job in a full-time role after starting twice last season and making 28 tackles with a sack and 4.5 tackles for loss. At 6-3 and 238 pounds he has size to work on the inside and the range and quickness to be a playmaker on the outside. Now that he has a year of experience, he should be a major stat-sheet filler.
6-3, 227-pound junior Jerrell Harris can do a little of everything for the linebacking corps, and he worked in a variety of spots and on special teams making three tackles after being suspended for the first six games of last year. While one of the stars of the 2008 recruiting class is built a bit more like a big safety than a linebacker, he's a guided missile of a hitter who made 275 tackles in his final two years in high school. He'll work on the strong side, but he'll have to fight to hold on to the job.
Junior Courtney Upshaw will never have to pay for another meal in the greater Tuscaloosa area again after sealing the national title with a fumble recovery against Texas, but he did more than that in a solid second season. The 6-2, 249-pound spot starter made 15 tackles with four quarterback hurries and two fumble recoveries, and now he'll get the fourth linebacker job, the Jack, in place of Eryk Anders. A blow-him-up hitter, he'll make several highlight reel plays.
Projected Top Reserves: Part big linebacker and part smallish defensive end, redshirt freshman Ed Stinson is a perfect fit for the hybrid Jack position and has the speed and athleticism to be a big-time pass rusher. The Tide grabbed him away from Florida, and now he's about to be a great role player in the rotation.
6-3, 232-pound junior Chris Jordan has been a good reserve over the last two years seeing time in 23 games and making 12 tackles last season. Mostly a special teamer so far, now he'll be a part of the rotation on the weakside where he has all the tools and all the ability to produce whenever he's on the field.
Redshirt freshman Tana Patrick might not have been the elite of the elite recruits, but he was still considered a top prospect who was high on many lists last year. The 6-3, 235-pound option for the middle will mostly work on special teams, but he'll have a big role to play if Dont'a Hightower isn't 100% or if he gets banged up again. Patrick should be tough against the run and versatile enough to work at any of the four spots.
The team's top linebacker recruit this year was C.J. Mosley, a 6-2, 225-pound whirling dervish of a defender who can fly all over the field and hits everything in sight. While he could stand to add a few pounds, he's a dream of an outside defender making 186 tackles as a senior with seven sacks, and he'll eventually be a do-it-all defender for the Bama linebacking corps.
Watch Out For … Hightower. He was on the verge of blowing up and becoming an All-SEC superstar before hurting his knee. From all indications, everything is on track for him to be back to normal and he should be phenomenal in the middle.
Strength: Talent. The attention paid to Rolando McClain overshadowed a great year from the other three linebacker spots. There might be some new starters in key spots, but the team has loaded up with tremendous talents and should quickly rebound. The second teamers would start for most teams.
Weakness: Rolando McClain. It might sound blasphemous, but McClain is replaceable. He earned the Butkus Award on hype and exposure as much as anything else. Even so, he was a peerless leader and the unquestioned quarterback of the defense who earned the total and complete trust of the coaching staff. Hightower will be a leader, but McClain really was a special player for more than just his stats.
Outlook: The Bama linebacking corps might not be full of household names, but Hightower will about to be the star of the show who takes over the spotlight as the focus of every SEC Saturday like McClain was. It's a versatile group with plenty of speed and lots of playmakers. Expect a swarm to the ball on every running play.
Unit Rating: 7.5
Projected Starters: Junior Mark Barron had one of the best under-the-radar seasons of anyone in America. The 6-2, 214-pound safety is the only returning starter in the secondary, and he's a great one finishing second on the team with 76 tackles with seven interceptions and 11 broken up passes. He has the speed, size, and tackling ability to have a long career at the next level, but first he'll be on the short list for everyone's All-America team and should be in the hunt for the Thorpe Award.
Considered the nation's best corner recruit last year, Dre Kirkpatrick saw a little bit of time as a reserve and worked as a key special teamer making eight tackles. Now he'll be in charge of locking down one side of the field with 6-3, 190-pound size, blazing speed, and the next-level tools that should make him one of the SEC's new superstars.
Sophomore B.J. Scott started out his Bama career as a receiver making two catches for seven yards as a true freshman, and now he's a key corner after sitting out last year. At 5-11 and 196 pounds he has good size for a corner, and he has the raw speed to make up for his mistakes without too much of a problem. After spending a year learning how to play the position, he's not coming in cold.
6-2, 206-pound sophomore Robert Lester will replace Justin Woodall as a starting safety after spending most of last year as a special teamer. He only made eight tackles, and now the pressure is on to be a steady tackler and producer and become a factor in the defensive backfield for the next three years. He has the size and speed to put up big numbers.
Projected Top Reserves: Another terrific defensive back recruit, sophomore Rod Woodson had a good first year as a special teamer making seven tackles, and now he'll be a part of the rotation with Robert Lester at one of the safety spots. The 5-11, 200-pounder will now get his chances in the secondary and he's expected to find time on the field in a variety of ways. He'll be a physical playmaker.
Junior Phelon Jones started out his career at LSU seeing a little bit of starting time making 15 tackles as a nickel and dime defender. Originally considered a corner, he'll be a part of the rotation with B.J. Scott on one side and will also work as a fifth defensive back from time to time to get him on the field. At 5-11 and 199 pounds he has good size and is one of the team's best athletes.
DeMarcus Milliner was considered the team's top recruit and was almost everyone's No. 1 corner prospect. With 6-1, 182-pound size, great hitting ability, and the ball-hawking talent to become a major playmaker no matter where he ends up. He'll start out at corner, but he's big enough to be moved to safety and he could grow into a whale or a nickel back right away. The talent is too great to not be a part of the retooling secondary.
6-0, 178-pound John Fulton might not be the prospect that Milliner is, but he'd be the crown jewel in just about anyone else's recruiting class. He could've gone anywhere, and now he'll push for time in the rotation with Dre Kirkpatrick. With all the tools, including the polish to not need a whole bunch of playing time before he's ready, he has the ability to carve out a role as a No. 5 defensive back if he doesn't take over a starting corner gig outright.
Watch Out For … Kirkpatrick. Alabama has loaded up on top talents in recent years, and Kirkpatrick, as a recruit, was at or near the top of the list. With his size and combination of skills, it'll be a major disappointment if he's not an all-star very, very soon.
Strength: Talent. The Bama secondary will be great on raw tools alone. Granted, the better, more experienced passing games will be able to produce (at least early on), but there's so much speed, so many four and five-star recruits, and so many great prospects that the production should still be there.
Weakness: Experience. It's asking an awful lot to win a second straight national title with so little experience in the secondary. Yeah, there's a ton of NFL-caliber talent about to be unleashed on the SEC world, but there might be some rough patches for an area that has to do some major reloading.
Outlook: Bama sent three starting defensive backs off to the NFL, but this year's secondary has more talent. There isn't a lot of experience, but on size, speed, and skills, this group is loaded. Barron will be a steadying playmaking force who'll help make the transition easier, and when the light goes on for players like Kirkpatrick, Fulton, and Milliner, good luck getting a passing game going.
Unit Rating: 8
Projected Starters: Is Alabama really going to go for a national title with a true freshman placekicker? It's possible, but all Cade Foster has to do is replace Leigh Tiffin, who nailed 30-of-35 field goals last year. Foster is considered one of the nation's top kicking prospects with good consistency, range around 50 yards, and a linebacker's weight room strength. Talent-wise, he can handle the job from the start.
True freshman Jay Williams will be given a long look at the punting job, taking over for four-year starter P.J. Fitzgerald, and he should provide some more blast. Fitzgerald was good, averaging 41.5 yards per kick with 19 put inside the 20, but he also gave up a whopping 12 touchbacks. Williams has a big leg and is extremely accurate. He'll be a fixture for the next four years.
Javier Arenas was an all-time great return man averaging 15.4 yards per punt return last season and 29 yards per kickoff return, and now Julio Jones will get the first crack at both jobs. There are plenty of great options to try out, including Marquis Maze on punt returns and Trent Richardson on kickoffs, but Jones will get the first crack.
Watch Out For … Williams. The hope and the prayer is that he'll be able to handle himself right away under the pressure, but he has the talent to be fine right away. As long as he's averaging over 40 yards per kick and is consistent, everything will be fine.
Strength: Athletes. Yeah, the Tide loses both kickers and Arenas, but there are so many good athletes across the board that finding a top return man isn't going to be a problem if Jones isn't magnificent. Considering there are so many NFL athletes across the board, there's no excuse to not be better at …
Weakness: Kick and punt coverage. The kickers will be fine and the return game will be explosive, but the coverage teams have to be night-and-day better after allowing 25.1 yards per kickoff return, and two scores, and 9.2 yards per punt return.
Outlook: The special teams were a big part of the national title run, right down to the blocked kicks against Tennessee by Terrence Cody. Now Bama is starting from scratch, and while Foster and Williams are talents, it's a big question mark to rely on true freshmen to come through all season long.
Unit Rating: 6.5
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