Johnson Has High Goals For Defense

It is understandable that for an Alabama football player the defensive standard of excellence would be the 2009 team. It was a great defense, a primary reason the Crimson Tide was able to defeat 10 bowl teams en route to a 14-0 record and the national championship.

Alabama weakside linebacker Nico Johnson is giving high praise, indeed, then when he says that he thinks the 2011 edition of the Bama defense can be as god as the 2009 Crimson Tide.

"We can be great," Johnson said. "I think we could be better than the '09 defense. We still have a lot of work to do, but I seriously think that."

Johnson is an example of the potential of the defense. The 6-3, 245-pound junior is on the pre-season watch list for the Butkus Award, given to the nation's top linebacker. And yet Johnson would not be considered the best linebacker on the team. That honor would g to fellow junior and Butkus Award watch list member Dont'a Hightower.

Taking it a step further, Johnson is not even a sure bet to be the starter at the inside linebacker position where he started six games last year. He's in a battle with sophomore C.J. Mosley.

That says much about the talent and the depth of the defense.

Johnson points to a wealth of talent and experience on the defense, which lost only one top starter – end Marcell Dareus – from last year's team.

Johnson, who is from Andalusia, was a starter in two of the 2009 games as a true freshman, taking over when Hightower was injured. He has played in 25 games in his first two years and has 61 tackles (33 last year)eight tackles for loss, a sack, a forced fumble, and an interception.

Johnson said the linebacker corps is working to be the leaders of the defense. And then he amended that. "Not just the defense," he said. "The team. Everybody. We're working hard, pushing everybody."

Johnson said he's working to get better in every phase. "I've still got a lot of work going from all categories," he said. "I'm still working. I've got to get better in each category. I'm never satisfied. I think everything needs improvement."

One area of emphasis for the defensive team this year has been to force more fumbles. Although Alabama had a good year in getting takeaways last year, it was primarily because of interceptions, 22. Bama forced only 19 fumbles (of which the Crimson Tide recovered only four), which meant Alabama ranked 118th of 120 major college teams in the nation.

"That's almost last," Johnson said. He said the defense had made a great deal of improvement with the emphasis on forcing fumbles and that drills had made both the defense and the offense better.

In discussing his fellow linebackers, Johnson said that Hightower appears to be back in pre-injury form, that Mosley "has progressed fast because he's a smart kid and fast learner,"; and that true freshman Trey DePriest "is just like C.J. Fast learner, loves football. He flies around real fast."

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