2013 Spring Preview – Defensive Backs

Last season you’d have to say that the defensive backs were by far and away the weakest link in the Alabama defense.  LSU was able to split their tight ends out wide and lined their wide receivers up on the Tide safeties and they were overmatched time and time again in that game.  Taking a few cues from LSU, Texas A&M exploited mismatches in the Tide’s secondary and forced Saban to speed up the development of Geno Smith so that he could play in nickel and dime coverages instead of relying on one of the Tide safeties.  Smith started against Georgia and Notre Dame and acquitted himself beautifully as a pass defender and this changed the fortunes of Alabama’s pass coverage.  But, Dee Milliner (a certain top 5 NFL draft pick) is gone leaving Smith and Deion Belue as the Tide corners.  Gone, too, is Robert Lester – a man whose understanding of the coverages should not be underestimated.  Sure, Lester looked bad in coverage several times but he was outstanding in run support and provided leadership in the secondary.  Basically, the 2012 secondary didn’t play particularly well and now Alabama has to move forward without their best corner and best safety.  Yeesh.  Things may be moving from bad to worse this season in the Tide’s defensive backfield so you can see why DB was such a point of emphasis in the 2013 recruiting class.

Cornerbacks

Deion Belue – 5’11, 179 Senior

While Belue’s class designation tells you he’s a senior, he’s just in his second year in the Alabama defense so it’s right to think that he should show improved play this season.  That being said, Belue was the one unexpected and very pleasant surprise in the 2012 signing class as he staked his claim to the starting corner position very early on.  Belue’s speed and ability to turn his hips fluidly in coverage was never really a question but the unknown in his game was whether or not he would have the, er, fortitude to come up and take on 200+ pound running backs.  Well, Belue did everything that was asked of him last season and turned into more than just a passable corner.  He can still become more physical in bump and run coverage so that will likely be his point of emphasis this spring.

Geno Smith – 6’0, 182 Sophomore

When we first saw this Geno Smith (not the QB from WVU), he was getting his butt chewed by Nick Saban while Alabama was leading Arkansas 52-0.  Smith evidently had busted a coverage and Saban had the foresight to know that at some point Smith could be playing a vital role in the Tide secondary.  For Nick to count on this young true freshman in the future, the mistakes of the present had to be corrected and corrected quickly.  A few games later, Smith once again drew the ire of Saban as he made a mistake in coverage and most felt that poor Geno was a dead corner walking.  Well, the dead to Saban are the guys he stops coaching up and the ones, like Geno, who do show promise will get coached up hard.  The result for Smith was a starting role against Georgia and Notre Dame in nickel and dime packages – the result for Saban was a fix to the ever leaking Tide secondary.  Suffice it to say that Geno has earned his stripes and should be one of the starting corners this year.  However, you need to remember that he’s strictly been guarding slot receivers so working outside on the perimeter will be a new thing for him.  We’ll see how he plays the long ball and how he supports the outside running plays this spring as that will determine whether or not he lines up as a starting corner in 2013.

John Fulton – 6’0, 187 Senior

Fulton is injured this spring and will likely not participate in the practices.  As a senior, Fulton has been on the cusps of winning a starting job a couple of different times only to see others win the spots.  Once again, it appears he will be on the outside looking in at a starting role but should provide important depth at the position.  One quick thing about Fulton – the A&M game.  You likely remember it as the game where he absolutely got his butt handed to him and, for the first four or five passes thrown his way, you’d be right.  Fulton was on an island with Mike Evans, the Aggies 6’5, 220 lb wide receiver, and Evans quickly caught the first four consecutive balls against Fulton while he watched in horror.  But, instead of burying his head, Fulton came back to defend the final five balls thrown Evans’ way and was a key defender that allowed Bama to get back in the game.  Fulton impressed me that day as he continued to fight and never got down on himself.  Impressive.

Bradley Sylve – 5’11, 178 Sophomore

The time is now for Sylve to make a move if he ever wants to take the field for any meaningful minutes.  Sylve actually looked pretty good several times last year during his mop up minutes and reports are that he had a very good fourth quarter program during the off-season.  Sylve has the height and speed that you want from a corner but, as a converted wide receiver, the physicality of the position (run support) is the troublesome part.  Surprisingly enough, right now Sylve is running with the 1s so we’ll see if he can make an impression before Dee Hart and Cyrus Jones can learn the position and before the four freshmen enroll in the summer.  If Sylve ends up locking down one of the corner positions, it will be the first time that I can remember any Bama player under Saban getting a starting position after switching sides of the ball.  Perhaps you can think of one but I sure can’t.

Jabriel Washington – 5’11, 183 Sophomore

Like Sylve, Washington is a converted wide receiver.  Though he just spent a short time as a wide out, he was soon switched to corner and has followed the same track as Sylve.  However, with Sylve forging ahead of Washington, suddenly the spring is a make or break spring for Jabriel because Saban is unimpressed by the corners that he’s moved Christion Jones, Cyrus Jones and Dee Hart over from the offense to compete at the position.  Additionally, Saban recruited FOUR corners in the 2013 class.  This does not bode well for Mr Washington.

Anthony Averett – 6’1, 180 True Freshman

Averett is fast.  Like really fast.  He also has the prototypical size that Saban wants his corners to look like.  What does that mean?  Well, I’d say it means Saban may have found yet another first round talent to play corner for him.  Now some look at this 4-star athlete as a safety but I believe he will first get the opportunity to play corner and they’ll go from there.  I mean, why waste a man who holds numerous New Jersey state track titles at the safety position?  One of Averett, Cook, Jackson or Smith is going to play some next year so we’ll see where Averett falls in that group.  The Lighthouse prediction for him is that he’ll likely redshirt since playing corner will be completely new for him.  He played safety last year as well as QB for his high school team so a steep learning curve is to be expected for him this summer.

Jonathan Cook – 6’0, 183 True Freshman

Cook is a tremendous story.  During his whole life all he ever wanted was to receive a scholarship offer from the University of Alabama.  He sent tapes, visited camps and expressed a genuine love of the Capstone but with other corners in play, the staff took a wait and see approach.  But, after dominating his senior year and then showing he was the top corner at the Alabama/Mississippi All Star game, the staff became enamored with this 4-star prospect as well.  During the All Star game, Cook was awesome and, after the game, Kirby Smart met him at midfield with the phone in his hand and a hearty handshake.  Cook took the phone and received the offer from Saban and became pretty emotional.  From what I saw, Cook has everything you’d want a corner to have and he played the ball beautifully while it was in the air.  We likey Cook!

Eddie Jackson – 6’1, 175 True Freshman

Jackson was a late add to the Bama class and seemingly burst onto the scene about two weeks before signing day.  There was a mad dash between LSU, FSU and Alabama to get this 4-star to commit and Alabama spurned at least two other more highly rated (by the recruiting services) corners to get their hands on Jackson.  Reportedly, the staff thinks Jackson could be the best corner in the class and that’s saying quite a bit when looking at this talented group!

Maurice Smith – 5’11, 185 True Freshman

Smith played in the Under Armor All American game and certainly seemed to look the part of a corner.  He certainly didn’t shy away from contact during that game so that was impressive and then he converted a pick six, as well.  This 4-star athlete also spent some time in high school as a WR but he’s destined to play corner at Alabama.  Some feel that Smith is the more polished of this freshman group of corners but I’d be hard pressed to pick anyone over Cook.  That being said, I’d think it’s between Cook and Smith to see who plays a role as a freshman corner.

Dee Hart – 5’9, 190 Sophomore

You have to feel badly for Dee Hart who tore the same ACL in 2012 that he tore in 2011.  With the numbers low in the secondary and perhaps because fewer hard jump cuts are required, Dee Hart is spending all of his time in the Alabama defensive backfield this spring.  I loved seeing the infectious attitude Hart had when he was making plays on special teams last season so I feel sad for the kid.  Now he’s going to be asked to learn a completely foreign position and he’s going to have to do so while coming off of an ACL surgery.  The odds are not good for Dee Hart to make this switch.

Cyrus Jones – 5’10, 192 Sophomore

Unlike Hart, Cyrus Jones actually does have experience as a corner.  In fact, in the 2012 Under Armor All Star game, Jones strictly played corner for that team.  As a high school senior, it was thought that Jones would start his Bama career out as a defensive back but, instead, he began as a WR.  Jones has the quicks and the hips to play corner so it’s our assessment that Cyrus will stay on the defensive side of the ball for the remainder of his time at the Capstone.  But, I guess we’ll see if he’s like a duck to water this spring…

Safeties

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix – 6’1, 210 Junior

Meet Verne Lundquist’s favorite player of all time.  If you are playing the CBS Drinking Game when Alabama is on, you’d better strike the rule about having to drink every time Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s (or Dix-Clinton Haha as Verne sometimes says) name is mentioned.  Regardless of how you say his name, HCD is everything you’d want in a safety.  He has the size, speed and ball skills to cover the deep third of the field and he’s also a very adept tackler near the line of scrimmage.  HCD can flat-out cover some ground and who could ever forget his ridiculous interception against Notre Dame?  In today’s game of defending the spread, having a safety who can cover is of paramount importance and HCD is all that and a bag of chips.  Ha Ha!

Landon Collins – 6’0, 202 Sophomore

When you are a five-star stud athlete who publicly went against his momma’s wishes and signed with the Tide, big, big things are expected from you.  I think the entire world is expecting Collins to step into the vacant safety position and, by all accounts (and recruiting ratings) he should.  However, Vinnie Sunseri, Nick Perry and the forgotten Jarrick Williams will likely do everything they can to fill Robert Lester’s role so we predict a heated battle at this position.  Athletically, Collins is a no brainer.  He’s big.  He’s fast.  He hits like a ton of bricks.  What’s not to like?  Well, it’s yet to be seen if he knows the complicated coverage schemes in the secondary and you’d have to think the older players who have been there longer would have a leg up in this department.  Cue the suspense music – this is going to be a fun battle to watch!

Vinnie Sunseri – 6’0, 215 Junior

Our good ole cousin Vinnie had a difficult season last year as he went from starting safety to nickel safety to dime safety to pray for safety.  Sunseri’s lack of pass coverage skills were victimized against Michigan and seemingly became more prominent as the season progressed.  As Bama was in dime coverage against Georgia in the waning seconds of the game, the Dawgs’ plodding TE juked Sunseri and was finally tackled at the five yard line setting up the final play of the game.  While Vinnie is a liability in coverage, he’s a considerable asset as a near the line of scrimmage safety.  Look for Sunseri to continue to be used as a pseudo LB in the dime sets but I wouldn’t look for him in any base coverages this season.

Nick Perry – 6’1, 208 Senior

After witnessing Sunseri’s struggles, the next man up was Nick Perry and he had his own struggles in pass coverage.  LSU, in particular, lit him up like an exposed Christmas tree and Perry’s failures ushered in the emergence of young Geno Smith into the secondary.  Perry knows the coverages and the calls but appears to be athletically inferior to Collins and Williams so the odds are long that you will see Perry fill Lester’s shoes in 2013.

Jarrick Williams – 6’1, 212 Senior

For a man who is coming off of a knee injury, there has been quite a bit of buzz about Williams during the first three spring practices.  Williams obviously has the experience to man the safety position so it just boils down to his health and ability to make plays.  This will be a fascinating battle to watch as it’s Williams’ last chance to make a splash at safety and all he has to do to claim the role is to beat out 5-star stud Landon Collins.  Game on!

Jai Miller – 6’3, 210 “Freshman”

It’s not every day that you see a 28-year-old freshman but that’s exactly what you have in Jai Miller.  Miller chose Stanford over Alabama back in 2003 but ended up accepting the Marlins’ offer to play baseball, instead.  With the Marlins now paying for his tuition, Miller is free to walk-on and compete for the safety job this spring and the word on the street is that he’s one impressive looking “freshman”.  At 28 years old, it’s likely that Miller will spend a ton of time on special teams but the odds are very long that he’ll end up playing any kind of significant role in the secondary this season. 

Conclusion

There are a couple of observations to make when looking that the sum total of this group.  First, Nick is so “thrilled” with the corners he has on the spring roster that he’s enlisted the help of Dee Hart, Christion Jones (he eventually go back to WR so I didn’t list him above), Cyrus Jones and FOUR talented freshmen to shore things up at that position.  True, one or two of the new signee pups could move to safety but that still would leave 5 guys fighting for time with Smith, Belue, Sylve and Washington.  Corner appears to be a very unsettled and precarious position for the time being.  Then, at safety, you have quite a few bodies but perhaps only two guys with the true athleticism to perform the duties required for the position.  Watching Sunseri, Perry and Williams compete with the more athletic Collins and Miller will be a highlight of the spring.  Given the need for safeties to be adept at playing corner, as well, you would have to think that the better athletes would have the best chance to succeed.  We shall see!

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2013 Spring Preview – Linebackers

Today’s 2013 spring preview focuses in on Alabama’s vaunted linebacker position where talent and experience are both abundant – more so than any other position in the Tide’s defense.  Even with the departures of Tyler Hayes (stupidity), Johnathan Atchison (evidently has left the program as he is not participating in spring drills) and Nico Johnson, the bevy of ‘backers is still a very impressive group.  In fact, technically all four starters at the LB position return this season.  Clearly the most talented player in the entire defense is CJ Mosley and he returns for his senior year to provide every down athleticism and experience to the group and will be an every down LB this season.  Trey DePriest really began to come into his own last season and he’s another guy who will be difficult to bring off the field regardless what the defensive package might be.  On the edges, that’s where things get fun.  Adrian Hubbard is back as the Jack LB and it appears Denzell Devall’s considerable abilities have moved Xzavier Dickson to, at worst, a floater between DE and OLB.  But that’s just the starters.  When you start getting into the depth of this position, that’s when you really break into a smile!  Let’s take a look at the Bama LB corps for 2013…

Jack Linebackers

Adrian Hubbard – 6’6, 248 Junior

Adrian Hubbard was coached up hard two years ago and, at the time, he was a 6’6 220 lb kid who couldn’t hold the edge.  Today, Hubbard is a 248 lb terror who lead the Bama defense in sacks (7) and tackles for loss (11) last season.  Hubbard’s true development has been his ability to take on tackles and pulling guards and maintain outside leverage so as to contain the outside runs.  This is critical against spread teams who like to run the fly sweeps so Hubbard’s development here has literally been a game changer.  This season, we’ll look to see if Hubbard can continue to refine and develop his pass rushing techniques as an edge rusher – the true calling card of a successful Jack LB.

Ryan Anderson – 6’2, 252 Redshirt Freshman

Ryan Anderson is a former 5-star athlete who absolutely terrorized offensive linemen in the 2011 version of the Alabama/Mississippi All Star game.  Anderson showed off his immense talent by beating tackles off the edge or, if he got bored, he simply went right thru them with a devastating bull rush.  Anderson’s abilities are perfectly suited for the Jack LB spot but he could also flourish on the other side as an outside linebacker.  Anderson had better step up big time this spring because Johnathan Allen is supposed to be some kind of special and he may pass up Anderson in the fall if Ryan has a poor spring.  And, you may remember Anderson was sent home from Miami in January so he’s already off to a bad start.

Jonathan Allen – 6’3, 260 True Freshman

Andrew Bone of Tidesports stated that Allen may be the best recruit Saban has ever signed to play the Jack position.  This 5-star was the 11th ranked athlete in the country and combines the speed and power that are certainly 5-star worthy.  Allen will arrive in the summer and will begin working hard to take on the role that Denzel Devall had last year.  You can bet that if Allen is nearly as good as folks say, he’ll certainly find his way onto the field in 2013.

Middle Linebackers

CJ Mosley – 6’2, 232 Senior

What can you say about CJ Mosley?  As soon as this kid stepped onto campus, he showed that he belonged as a big time player.  Mosley’s ability to read and diagnose the passing game led to him being a primary fixture in nickel and dime packages and now his overall game has evolved to a full-time starter.  Saban lamented over the fact that LSU’s double tight end sets and their sets with a FB forced Mosley off the field last season.  This was a problem that was rectified against Georgia and obviously now we’ll rarely see Mosley leave the field.  Numerous people have said that Mosley was the best player on Alabama’s defense last season and Bama is fortunate to have him back for his senior year.  His ability to defend the spread offenses is the key to the entire Bama D.  The only thing we think Mosley will be working on is taking on the full-time leadership role on D.

Trey Depriest – 6’2, 242 Junior

Trey Depriest is a very good all around LB.  He has the size to thump as a middle linebacker and he has enough speed and instincts to do a pretty darn good job in coverage.  Trey looked a step or two slower last year than he did in his freshman year and that’s likely due to a problematic ankle injury he struggled with all season.  We look for Depriest to continue to grow and flourish as one of the two starting middle linebackers this season.

Tana Patrick – 6’3, 236 Senior

This senior has seemingly been around since the Shula years yet he’s never quite been able to crack the starting spot at any of the linebacker positions.  Patrick has had experience practicing at every position besides the Jack position and 2013 could see his role as a bit of a Swiss Army knife for this year’s team.  He should be able to provide veteran leadership and experience as a backup at three different positions (the two inside LB positions and OLB).  He will need to continue doing well this spring as there will be at least one and maybe two talented younger players pushing him for time.

Reggie Ragland – 6’2, 247 Sophomore

This is a kid I was really excited about last season but an ankle injury derailed much of his development as a true freshman.  Ragland is a big thumper who can run and, at one time, was seen as a possible tight end candidate so he’s got a ton of skills.  We haven’t quite seen enough of him defending the pass but he definitely has the ability to stuff the run and play from sideline to sideline.  I’m really excited about seeing his development this spring as he was on the cusp of getting some quality playing time last season.

Reuben Foster – 6’1, 240 True Freshman

Where to begin with Reuben Foster?  Listen, we all know about his commitment to Bama, his decommitment and commitment to Auburn and then his eventual re-commitment to Alabama.  And, we all know about his famed tattoo.  In this section, the Lighthouse would like to shine its light on Foster the player…and Holy Mother of God is this kid a player.  Foster’s dramatics during the recruiting season overshadowed the fact that this kid is one helluva player.  His 5-star credentials are well-earned and in two different All Star games last season he literally popped off the screen.  Foster is an absolute heat seeking missile with a nasty little disposition to go with it.  While other kids were perhaps enjoying the limelight and experience of the All Star games (see Liner, Dee), Foster was intent on whipping somebody’s butt at every practice and on every snap.  Love.  This.  Kid.  Look for him to be in the 2-deep nearly as soon as he steps foot onto campus in the summer.

Walker Jones – 6’3, 238 True Feshman

There isn’t a lot of buzz about Walker Jones and he’s certainly overshadowed by his Outland and Rimington award winning brother Barrett.  Walker is the third Jones brother to sign with the Tide and his first year will likely be spent redshirting at the middle linebacker position.  As with every new signee, Jones will not be on campus until the summer.

Outside Linebackers

Denzel Devall – 6’2, 243 Sophomore

At the time Devall committed last year, not much was known about the 4-star LB.  We didn’t get to see him in any All Star games and there really just wasn’t a lot of talk about him on the boards or by the recruiting services.  Well, Denzel didn’t really care because this Man on Fire became a critical role player as a pass rusher extraordinaire for Alabama in 2012.  Look for Devall to use his 2012 experience as a springboard to big time playing time as a probable started at the OLB position.  Put it this way – Xzavier Dickson was a very good player at this position and yet Devall has clearly bumped him down to playing defensive end.  It’s not that Dickson did poorly – it’s that Devall is just that good!

Xzavier Dickson – 6’3, 262 Junior

Spring has become an interesting experiment for big Xzavier Dickson and by fall I sincerely doubt that his weight will remain in the 260’s.  In fact, I’ll be tuning into A-Day just to see if Dickson has already bulked up from what he looked like last year as the expectation is that Dickson will spend the majority of his time with his hand on the ground as a DE.  I thought Dickson did an excellent job as the starting OLB last season and thought he didn’t really get enough credit for dislodging QBs from the pocket.  However, Devall soon showed that he had a much quicker first step and was a better edge rusher so Dickson’s transformation to DE actually began last year.  Tune on for A-Day to see how Xzavier adjusts to having his hand on the ground.  Will he hold the point of attack or will he get pushed around by the new OL?  Tune in to find out!

Dillon Lee – 6’4, 240 Sophomore

Oh, Dillon – what happened?  Lee looked to be earning time as a backup middle linebacker last season and even intercepted a pass against Michigan in the very first game of the season.  But, somewhere along the way, Lee’s playing time diminished and he ultimately ended up getting sent home from Miami before the BCS Championship game.  Lee certainly looks the part of a middle linebacker bringing size and instincts to the table to go along with pretty good speed.  This spring will be of paramount importance to Lee as he tries to forge his way into the playing rotation at either middle linebacker or outside linebacker.  He really needs to get back into the coaches’ good graces this spring and create some separation before Foster and Williams show up in the summer.

Anthony Orr – 6’4, 258 Junior

There isn’t much being said about Anthony Orr this spring which probably doesn’t bode well for Orr.  The fact that Lee is likely in the doghouse could open the door to more reps and more opportunities to impress the coaches but if it hasn’t happened by his junior year then it’s a bit unlikely to happen for him.

Tim Williams – 6’3, 225 True Freshman

Williams was a great get out of the great state of Louisiana and, as a 4-star OLB he could end up being quite a force.  We got to see Williams in the Under Armor All Star game and he was very, very impressive.  He did  a pretty nice job of holding the edge the few times he was asked to (he was playing as a DE) and he definitely showed a quick first step and strong burst as a pass rusher.  Williams appears to have all of the traits that you would want from an OLB and he should be playing a significant role in a year or two.  The guess here is that he’ll likely redshirt to gain a bit more mass this season.

Conclusion

So, there you have it – that’s quite an exhaustive list of players for the coaching staff to choose from at the different linebacker positions.  I think there are two keys items to pull from this preview:  1) All four starting linebackers return this season and one of them looks to be moved to another position because his replacement is that much better.  2)  There are two (and perhaps three if Williams develops as we expect) absolutely dynamic playmakers coming in the fall and between Allen and Foster the best may be yet to come.  This spring is going to be very important to Ragland, Anderson and Lee because they are going to get pushed really hard by the newcomers in the fall.  With Anderson and Lee likely in the doghouse from their Miami vices, look for Allen and Foster to garner quite a bit of playing time when they arrive.

2013 Spring Preview – Defensive Line

Welcome back!  In this segment of the Lighthouse’s 2013 spring previews, the Lighthouse will shine our attention on the revamped Alabama defensive line.  In the upcoming season, the Tide’s defensive line will be very, very young but it will also be a tremendously talented group – many say this may be the most talented group that Saban has had during his time at Alabama.  Gone are the big bodied studs such as Damion Square, Quinton Dial and Jesse Williams and they will be replaced by slightly smaller, quicker and more athletic defenders.  However, in a Saban/Smart defense size has always mattered so it will be interesting this spring to see how the young ends such as Jeoffrey Pagan, LaMichael Fanning, Korren Kirven, Dakota Ball and Dalvin Tomlinson can hold the point of attack.  Stopping the run is priority #1 for Alabama’s D so losing the girth and strength at the defensive end positions must be overcome.  However, it does appear that between big uns like Brandon Ivory and Darren Lake the center of the Tide defense should be just as good as ever (and that’s saying a lot after Cody, Chapman and Williams).  Let’s take a look at the defensive line cast and see how they project towards the 2013 season…

Nose Tackles

Brandon Ivory – 6’4, 315 Junior

When Todd McShay calls you out after watching tape, you know you are doing something right.  When the player he’s calling out is a backup player, then you have just popped right off the screen.  Such is the case for big Brandon Ivory.  Ivory spent some time backing up Jesse Williams but he actually spent the majority of his time as a starter in the goal line and short yardage defense.  Ivory lined up next to Williams on the interior of the line and he absolutely dominated in this alignment.  Ivory was either responsible or played a key role in numerous short yardage stops against Tennessee, LSU and Georgia and, he made numerous other plays as well.  The key to Ivory’s success is his crazy “get off” or his quickness off the ball.  As soon as the ball is snapped, Ivory is at least half a step ahead of the offensive linemen which allows him to quickly impose his will against poorly leveraged guards and centers.  When you can turn 315+ pounds into a quick, decisive force that’s when you see a dominating defensive lineman and that’s exactly what McShay saw on film.  Ivory has come a looooong way since his freshman year and as a result the nose should be in very good hands in 2013.

Darren Lake – 6’3, 315 Sophomore

Last season Darren Lake was forced into action as a true freshman due to a lack of bodies at the nose and because Williams and Ivory sustained a couple of minor injuries.  The first think you notice about Lake is his immense size.  While the roster lists this big man at 315, he sure looked like he carried a lot more than this to the table last season.  Unfortunately, size alone does not a nose tackle make but Lake did continue to make strides during the season as he gained more and more experience.  The word is that Lake is actually now pushing Ivory very hard as the 4th quarter program served him well and I’d think it’s a certainty that Lake will, at minimum, play the role that Ivory did last season in short yardage and goal line defenses.  We look for Lake to play a pretty significant role both as a valuable time-sharing backup as well as critical short yardage situations.

A’Shawn Robinson – 6’5, 302 True Freshman

As last season showed us with Darren Lake, the Alabama defense is typically going to utilize at least three different men at the nose position so all eyes will be on A’Shawn Robinson to see if he’ll be physically up to the task as a true freshman.  Chris Rumph identified Robinson as “his guy” and recruited him heavily to get him to play the interior of the Bama line.  Robinson’s credentials are nearly as large as his frame.  A’shawn was rated as a five-star player by most of the recruiting services and has shown enough athleticism to actually project on either side of the ball.  However, Rumph staked his claim to this big ‘un early and often so Robinson’s first chance for playing time will be at the nose tackle position.  Robinson will not enroll until the summer so he will not have the benefit of going thru spring drills but due to a bit of a shortage at the NT position, he may get into the rotation at the nose.

Defensive Ends

Ed Stinson – 6’4, 282 Senior

Stinson’s body has transformed from a 245 lb freshman Jack linebacker to a 280+ lb senior defensive end and he will be counted on heavily to anchor the end against the running game.  On last year’s film, Stinson was, at times, pushed around a little more than some of the previous larger ends but his athleticism as a former Jack linebacker did serve him well.  Last year he showed off his athleticism at the position by garnering 8.5 tackles for loss (second on the team in TFL) so you can tell that he’s adept using his quickness to get into the backfield.  However, this spring and fall it’s vital for Stinson to be as big and as strong as possible so that he can perform his run stopping role as a starting DE.  Watch Stinson closely during A-Day to see how well he holds the point and keeps his feet – this will tell you if he’s going to be pushed by someone at this position.

Jeoffrey Pagan – 6’4, 285 Junior

Off the hoof, Pagan is VERY impressive.  This is just a very cut and defined looking human being.  With Alabama substituting fairly regularly along the DL, Pagan played a good deal of snaps last season and typically showed the ability to hold the point against the running game.  Pagan has outstanding potential and this spring he will have to show the staff that he can turn that immense potential into a starting caliber defensive end.  All indications are that Pagan will be just fine in his new role as a starter and, between Pagan and Stinson, Bama will have two of the more athletic ends they’ve had in a while.  Again, the question will be their ability to hold the point and not get pushed at the line of scrimmage.  We’ll be keeping our eye on this during A-Day…

Xzavier Dickson – 6’3, 262 Junior

I’m a big fan of Dickson and last season I thought he was a bit underrated as a rushing outside linebacker.  Oftentimes Dickson’s pressure forced the QBs to move in the pocket and sometimes that can be just as good or better than a sack.  This season, Dickson is shuttling back and forth between his outside linebacker position and the defensive end position.  It’s likely that you could see Dickson become a speed rushing end in nickel and dime situations as a part of the vaunted rabbits package.  To me, Dickson certainly has shown the ability to cause pressure so it will be interesting to see where he lands between LB and DE.  Over the past few years, Saban and Smart have utilized four man fronts to combat the numerous spread offenses and with the likes of Johnny Manziel lurking out there, this may be a move to get a more athletic look at the DE position.  Again, this is something for us to watch during A-Day to see where Dickson lines up.  While Saban & Co won’t be showing any wrinkles, if Dickson lines up at DE the majority of the time then that likely tells us that he’ll be there in the fall (and Denzell Devall will take his old spot as an OLB).

LaMichael Fanning – 6’7, 295  Sophomore

Fanning is a beast, pure and simple – just ask the Missouri tailback who Fanning suplexed in Columbia last season.  While the announcers railed on him for such a dirty play, my mouth was agape as I simply could not believe what I just saw.  When a man who is 6’7 lifts your carcass into the air, you are going to come down with some authority and that poor Tiger didn’t exactly land on all fours.  That gives you some idea of the immense talent that Fanning possesses and it also gives you a little indication about perhaps why he sometimes seems to be on the outside of the rotation looking in.  Tidesports’ depth chart lists Mr Fanning as Ed Stinson’s backup and with the rotation up front we should see many more opportunities for Fanning to make us say “holy…….!”

Dalvin Tomlinson – 6’2, 266 Redshirt Freshman

I’ll likely go back to these previews and shake my head at the number of “I love this guy” references but I am so excited about watching Tomlinson play this coming season.  After sustaining a torn ACL last season before fall practice ever started, rumor had it that Tomlinson was actually pushing hard for playing time towards the latter part of the season and Tidesports currently lists him as the backup to Pagan at DE.  Tomlinson was disruptive on the scout team and displayed a very strong low center of gravity that allowed him to create problems for the opposing linemen.  The thing I love about Dalvin is that he’s a former Georgia heavyweight high school wrestling champion.  Want an idea of what that looks like?  Check out this You Tube video and tell me “Are you not entertained?”  This quickness and strength with his hands will serve him very well in the trenches (He’s the one on the right and finished his wrestling season 49-0.  Don’t blink.):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=fvwp&v=gXk9jKJdPHg&NR=1

Dakota Ball – 6’2, 295 Redshirt Freshman

This will be an interesting spring for Ball because the competition is pretty wide open for getting into the DE rotation.  While Pagan, Fanning and Tomlinson are listed ahead of him, this spring will be an opportunity for Ball to stake a claim for playing time before Liner and Paige will have a chance to enroll.  Ball’s calling card is a relentless motor and you know that goes over pretty well with the Tide coaching staff.  Again, it’s a big spring for Dakota so we’ll be interested to see how he performs during A-Day – you do have to like the fact that he’s one of the bigger DE’s on the team.

Chris Bonds – 6’4, 273 Senior

At this point, Bonds appears to be on the outside looking in at the younger guys on the roster who are passing him up for playing time.  Unless something drastically changes during spring drills, we don’t expect Bonds to be in the regular rotation at DE.

Korren Kirven – 6’5, 292 Redshirt Freshman

According to practice observers, the 4th quarter program was evidently very good for Mr Kirven.  You may remember that this former 4-star was a last-minute get for the tide staff in the 2012 signing class and they were extremely excited to get him.  Kirven redshirted last season and didn’t create quite the buzz that Tomlinson did on the scout team.  Kirven has all the potential in the world so this will be a critical spring for him, as well, as he also attempts to create some separation from Liner and Paige before they can get to campus.

Wilson Love – 6’3, 281 Sophomore

There is not much of a buzz around Love so I’m curious to see what happens with him this spring.  As you look at the list of talented players above his name, it’s hard to imagine him in the rotation at this point.

Dee Liner – 6’2, 277 True Freshman

What an interesting ride it’s been for the recruit with one of the best names in all of college football.  Dee Liner plays D-Line, of course, and Alabama’s staff relentlessly pursued him even after he committed to Auburn, got in trouble with the law and got into trouble with the law yet again.  While his transgressions were relatively minor, there were plenty of red flags to dissuade the Tide coaches from recruiting this big man.  That should tell you just how special he is supposed to be.  In talking with some locals, it’s said that Liner was the most dominating defensive lineman they have ever seen in high school football and that is why Saban has had such a crush on him.  However, in watching him in the Alabama v Mississippi All Star game and again in the Under Armor All American game, I simply didn’t see it.  I’m not saying it’s not there, I’m just saying that his motor didn’t appear to be engaged during those two games.  With Liner enrolling in the fall, it will be interesting to see how quickly he is able to get into the rotation at DE.  If he is what the locals say he is, look for him to contribute this season and not to redshirt.

Darius Paige – 6’4, 285 True Freshman

Darius Paige is one of the kids who may have some issues enrolling in the fall as it appears he still needs the appropriate ACT score to get into Alabama.  That being said, Paige is a kid that I saw play in the Alabama v Mississippi All Star game and also in the Semper Fi All Star game and this kid’s motor never stopped.  At 6’4, 285 he actually seemed to play bigger than that.  He dominated the practices at the AL v MS game and was voted the strongest player on either team.  I can tell you that the two times I watched him play, he certainly plays big and plays strong.  If he makes it into school, Paige has the size, strength and motor to be a contributor this season.

Conclusion

Look back up at the ridiculous list of names and talents at the DE position.  All of these kids were highly decorated high school players and all have the measurables that make Big 10 coaches weep at night.  The interesting thing about this list is that NONE of the defensive ends weigh in at over 300 lbs which is somewhat of a departure from the usual Saban 3-4 DEs.  Guys like Dareus, Deaderick, Square, Dial, were all 290+ so it’s a bit interesting to me to see Stinson at 282 and Pagan at 285 listed as starters.  We at the Lighthouse believe that with Alabama playing more and more four man fronts against the spread offenses out there, this could be a small philosophy change by the Tide staff.  Instead of employing thick bodied fire hydrants at the end positions, it looks as though the staff is recruiting for a more athletic looking front four.  It should be a fun spring to watch these guys battle it out and A-Day will be particularly interesting as we watch them do battle against Alabama’s new offensive line.