The 2012 version of the Alabama defense left Kirby Smart wanting a little more out of the 2013 group. While the Bama defense once again dominated the statistical rankings, the Alabama coaching staff holds them to much higher standards and the expectation from Smart is that this year’s D needs to be better. If Saturday’s scrimmage is any indication, Coach Smart should smile quite a bit this season.
Here’s a semi-quick review of some highlights on defense. Honestly, I spent most of my time trying to watch the offensive line so I didn’t look downfield to watch coverages on the different routes. Anyway, here are a few noteworthy items:
Defensive Backs: The corners played really well and rarely provided the wide receivers with much space in the secondary. Passes were contested and receivers were tackled consistently. Fulton and Cyrus Jones each looked solid – Jones in pass coverage and Fulton coming up to show some physicality at the position. Belue was held out of quite a few snaps but when he was in there he looked fine. Sylve appeared to have a decent practice but the other corner who caught my eye was true freshman Maurice Smith. Now, with the news of Geno Smith’s DUI arrest, look for Maurice Smith to step up and take some serious game reps – he looked mighty good. Smith picked off an errant (thrown behind the receiver) Sims pass and returned it 101 yards for a TD. None of the other corners did anything noteworthy.
Vinnie Sunseri played the majority of his time at the deep safety spot and, surprisingly, in dime looks it was Landon Collins who was playing next to CJ Mosley as a LB. Sunseri provided his usual stellar run support and collided with Derrick Henry in one of the day’s loudest collisions. While we still worry about Sunseri getting beat deep, this never happened Saturday. Meanwhile, I was really impressed with Landon Collins. I thought he tackled well – he raced Tenpenny to the corner and tackled him before he scored – and when he stayed stride for stride with Kenny Bell on a long crossing route (and broke up the pass), I was really impressed. I do not recall Ha Ha, Perry or any other safeties doing anything to stand out. Jai Miller did play but it appeared he was running with the third string.
Linebackers: Back in February, I told you that Reuben Foster was the best LB I’d seen in any of these high school All-Star games as he blew up the Alabama v Mississippi game as well as the Under Armour game. Once again on a field of supremely talented players, Reuben Foster is the one everyone is talking about. Foster’s motor and hitting ability absolutely stands out from the rest and while I noted that he blew an assignment during pre-game 7-on-7, he more than made up for it during the scrimmage. Foster teamed with Ragland and between these two thumpers there really wasn’t any room for the RBs to run. Several times Foster scraped down the line of scrimmage and filled the hole like a seasoned veteran. He is outstanding, and you can ask Altee Tenpenny about how much power Foster brings behind his pads. He was absolutely destroyed on one loud play that caused the stands to erupt.
Dillon Lee had a rough practice as he was left with Derrick Henry twice in one on one situations and each time Henry was the victor as he outraced Lee to the pylon for touchdowns. Lee also got juked by Dee Hart in another one on one situation so Lee will have a rough day in the film room today. Mosley was Mosley and Tana Patrick appeared to have a quiet afternoon.
The OLB’s had a nice day as Hubbard and Devall seemed to consistently apply pressure. Hubbard, in particular, spent quite a bit of time in the backfield. On one play, Bama’s D ran a stunt or a “game” and Hubbard breezed by a statue posing as Anthony Steen. I had Hubbard listed for over five different pressures so it looks like 2013 will be a big year for him.
Defensive Line: I was extremely impressed with the defensive line and, in particular, Ed Stinson. Every time you’d look up to figure out why the pocket collapsed, big number 49 was standing next to the QB. Stinson showed an improved burst yet he looked as big as he ever has. He was so impressive. Darren Lake showed some pass rush ability several times and I noted that he had himself a nice little scrimmage. With Brandon Ivory going down, Lake’s ability to play the NT position will be a big deal until Ivory returns.
Another guy who I wrote down four or five different times was Xzavier Dickson. This kid was dominant and he made poor Leon Brown look silly numerous times. Dickson would start outside and then knife inside leaving Brown grasping for air. To me, it looked like Dickson has found himself a new home at DE.
Another kid who popped to me was true freshman Johnathan Allen – he showed tremendous quickness in getting into the backfield. A’Shawn Robinson was used both inside and outside along the line and held the point very, very well. Dalvin Tomlinson also held the point of attack but neither Tomlinson nor Robinson was seen penetrating into the backfield that I can recall.
Overall, the DL clearly won the day over the OL. With Stinson, Dickson, Lake (and Hubbard off the edge) continuously blowing up plays, it made for a long day for the offense.
Kicking Game: Cody Mandell appeared to have a nice scrimmage but surprisingly he was the only punter that was used. If he goes down, I have no clue what the 2nd stringer looks like.
In the kicking battle, I guess you’d just about have to just about call it a draw with maybe a slight edge to Griffith. Griffith’s kick off reached the three yard line while Foster landed his kick offs two and three yards deep in the end zone. Advantage Foster. But, Foster connected on a short FG and missed wide left on a 43 yarder. Neither kick was well struck and, in particular, the one he made was very low. Griffith’s kick offs were shorter and he even missed an extra point so his day wasn’t one to write home about. However, he absolutely crushed a 50 yard FG that would have been good from 60. This particular kick looked like one you would see on Sundays. So, Griffith’s kicks are quicker (Foster had a FG blocked by Cyrus Jones off the edge) and the trajectory is much, much higher so that is why I give the slight edge to Griffin at this point.
Final Thoughts: With the likes of Hubbard, Devall, Stinson, Dickson and others swarming the line of scrimmage, there really wasn’t much opportunity for the offense to get much done. It’s evident that the athleticism has increased across the front seven and that doesn’t really bode well for our future opponents. I wish you could have seen Reuben Foster – he’s an absolute animal. It’s impressive to me that once again on a field full of talented football players it was Foster who stole the show. If anyone has any questions about this defense, it appears that your 2013 will come with an exclamation point!