Can Tide Develop Good Sack Attack?

Alabama Football Coach Nick Saban has pointed out that sacks are not considered a point of emphasis in the Crimson Tide's defensive plan. Sacks are merely part of the overall result of effective pass rush, disruption of the opposing quarterback.

Be that as it may, to the average observer of football, the sack is very important. It is certainly effective in pass defense because no pass is thrown. (Frequently if the quarterback attempts to pass, something bad happens, such as intentional grounding, hitting an ineligible receiver, or an interception; rarely does a quarterback being sacked rescue the situation with a completion.)

The sack also results in lost yardage, sometimes enough lost yardage to change the strategy, or even the scoring opportunity. A team that is sacked out of field goal range on third down and the team making that sack would consider it important.

Also, there is the emotional impact. The team delivering the sack gets a huge lift, while the offense is a collective Sad Sack.

Last year, Alabama was a very poor sack team until late in the season. Bama got four against Auburn and five against Michigan State. Those nine amounted to one-third of the 27 total the Crimson Tide had in 13 games.

Jack linebacker Courtney Upshaw led Alabama with seven sacks for 40 yards. Five of his sacks came in the final two games. End Marcell Dareus, expected to be one of the top choices in the NFL draft, was second on the team with four and a half. End Damion Square had three.

Alabama under Saban traditionally has had a sophisticated blitz package. More than one opposing coach has commented on the difficulty of preparing for the Bama pass rush. Safety Mark Barron and nickel back Dequan Menzie had a couple of sacks last year. The only linebacker other than Upshaw with meaningful sacks was back-up strongside linebacker Alex Watkins with two and a half.

Saban has said that this spring there will be an emphasis on improving pass rush.

The Crimson Tide begins spring football practice Monday. Bama will have 15 practices, including the A-Day Game on April 16.

Alabama had very good pass defense last year, ranking third in the Southeastern Conference and 13th in the nation, allowing just 176.2 yards per game passing. The Tide and Florida were tied for the league lead in interceptions with 22, Bama safety leading the SEC with eight.

Bama's pass defense was one reason the Tide led the SEC and was third in the nation in scoring defense and was first in the conference, fifth nationally in total defense.

But for all that, Alabama ranked sixth in the conference in sacks and 11th in tackles for loss.

Saban has also pointed out that pass defense is not just what the secondary does. It is dependent on what happens up front with the pass rush. Considering the statistical lack of pass rush, the overall pass defense is remarkable.

The Alabama defense returns almost intact, On the front line, Dareus and back-up end Luther Davis having completed eligibility.

Figure that Upshaw at jack linebacker and Square at right end will be effective sack men. Bama has expected Dont'a Hightower, coming back from knee injury, to be more of a pass rush force when he moves from middle linebacker to an on-line position. End Quinton Dial and nose tackle Jesse Williams, both transfers from junior colleges and enrolled for the spring semester, have reputations as excellent pass rushers.

If Saban is putting an emphasis on pass rush, expect it to be better. And with that improved pass rush there could be more sacks, whether they matter to Saban or not.

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