A-Day Review Of Defense, Kicking

It's been two months since the Alabama nation convened at Bryant-Denny Stadium to both further celebrate a 14th national championship and get a preview of the team they hope will bring home number 15. This is the second part of my review after watching a replay of the A-Day Game from April. We looked at the offense yesterday. Today we look back at what we saw of the defense and special teams.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban acknowledged in post-game remarks that he wasn't giving Michigan a scouting report by showing his hand offensively. The defense, too, had few wrinkles and the kicking game – as always – will be firmed up in fall camp.

Alabama opens the 2012 season against Michigan in the Cowboys Classic in Arlington, Texas, on Sept. 1.

Reviewing the videotape of the Crimson-White game has an advantage over covering the scrimmage live and taking notes. We checked it out with the ability of instant replay whenever we wanted it. Here are some observations:

Even had kick coverage not been two-hand touch, it appeared the dynamic Christion Jones, who earned his spurs at the Louisiana Superdome in Bama's 21-0 BCS Championship Game win over LSU in January, might have taken the opening kickoff back at least to midfield. Expect the speedy sophomore to be a major factor on both kick and punt returns.

Speaking of kickoffs, Cade Foster should enjoy the moving of the ball up to the 35-yard line (from the 30) beginning this season. That naturally allowed Foster to send more kicks into the end zone during the spring. That said, Saban wants a kickoff man who can "kick it in the stands every time," and that person could be incoming freshman Adam Griffith. There's probably a better chance of Griffith usurping Foster on kickoffs and long field goals than in him winning the outright job early, because as LSU found out the hard way, Jeremy Shelley can be deadly accurate on the short and mid-range kicks. He continued to show just that in the spring.

It will be interesting to see if punter Cody Mandell can keep improving this fall as he did in the spring. Like P.J. Fitzgerald before him, Mandell is getting better each year statistically, but in the spring he showed a big jump in hang time and distance both. Mandell shows signs of becoming a field-position changing weapon.

On defense, Quinton Dial and Jeffrey Pagan both did a good job harassing Philip Sims, who led the White offense that day. Dial had a sack on the first series by the White offense. Look for Dial to have a more consistent season and contribution this fall, his second year at Bama after a junior college career.

The move of former end Jesse Williams to nose tackle was an interesting thing to watch. He had a nice battle against center Barrett Jones, one I'd have to call a draw. Williams brings a quickness to the middle of the line rarely seen, even in the ultra-athletic Southeastern Conference. He is NOT a nose guard who will come off the field on third downs, as his predecessor, Josh Chapman, did.

Pass rush is always critical in a Nick Saban defense, and look for outside linebacker Adrian Hubbard to be a big factor. It's not certain yet whether he will start the season at Jack or Sam, though. Much of that will be determined by how sophomore Jack linebacker Xzavier Dickson performs on and off the field between now and Labor Day weekend. Hubbard is certain to start at one of the outside spots, and play a big role on passing downs.

On the inside, sophomore Trey DePriest continues to get better as he picks up the defense. He made a play to snuff a screen to Jalston Fowler near the end of the first quarter that he probably would not have a year ago. Nico Johnson, C.J. Mosely and DePriest give Kirby Smart as good a trio of inside 'backers as you'll find anywhere in college football, much less the SEC.

Speaking of Mosley, the quickness he showed when he flew into the backfield to throw T.J. Yeldon for a safety is rarely seen in an inside linebacker. The Mobile native could well be one of the first juniors to play in his hometown's annual Senior Bowl, if new director Phil Savage has his way.

Johnson continues to be a solid SEC run-stopping middle backer. DePriest has a chance to be among the best to ever line up inside at The Capstone. His combination of smarts and strength was on full display at A-Day as DePriest continually arrived at the ball in an ill humor.

A pleasant surprise and a mild disappointment would sum up cornerback play. Much was and is expected of Travell Dixon, but if Bama played this week he would be a starter on kick coverage only. Dixon did have one impressive break-up in the scrimmage.

No one foresaw the fine spring John Fulton had at corner. The light bulb came on, and somebody's home. He will be among the team's top three at his position, along will Deon Belue (who also picked things up quicker than Dixon) and Dee Milliner (who could also be one of those juniors in Mobile at the Senior Bowl).

At safety, few players know the Saban defense as well as soph Vinnie Sunseri. The guy I call "a faster Tommy Wilcox" is always around the ball, as evidenced by his late fumble return scoop. He kneeled down so his team could klll the clock and become the first starting defense to eat steak and make the starting quarterback eat beans in years. The steak meal is the reward for the winning team, while the losers have beans.

Robert Lester's game-opening pick of quarterback AJ McCarron showed he's stilll one of the SEC's top safeties, and it's going to be hard to keep hard-hitting Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix on the sidelines.

Special teams looks improved, and the defense has holes to fill, but has the players to fill them.

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