Jonathan Allen Likes Tide's Team Defense

It’s easy to understand Alabama Coach Nick Saban’s contention that he doesn’t worry about his defense getting sacks. What he wants to do is “affect the quarterback,” put pressure on him so that it makes it difficult for him to throw a damaging pass against the Crimson Tide defense.

But it’s also a reasonable theory that the sack does affect the quarterback. It also makes it impossible for him to make any kind of pass. And it results in lost yardage.

In recent years, Alabama has not ranked very high in sacks, but the Crimson Tide has been a very good defensive team, leading the league in total defense the past six years, which is unprecedented. Although the 2014 season is only two games old, Bama has a 2-0 record and also ranks high in Southeastern Conference defensive statistics.

One of those defensive statistics is sacks, and Bama is second in the league with six. Alabama also has the most sack yardage, 56, which is over 9 yards per sack.

That’s likely a reason the Tide defense is holding opponents to only a 29.2 success rate on third down plays.

It is the nature of modern football to have a fast-paced offense in which the quarterback is making quick throws. Logically, that makes it tough for the pass rush, but Bama has been able to get to the quarterback six times.

One of those six goes to Jonathan Allen, a 6-3, 272-pound sophomore from Leesburg, Va. After two games – and the only man to start on the defensive line in both games – Allen has made four primary tackles and assisted on three others to rank as tied for fifth in tackles. He has three tackles behind the line for 15 yards in losses, including his sack for an 11-yard loss in the opener against West Virginia.

For his play, he has been selected by the Crimson Tide coaching staff as an Alabama Player of the Week on defense in both games.

Allen, who saw action in all 13 Alabama games a year ago, said he would give the Bama defense “about a B” on its pass rush. “I feel like we’ve done pretty well,” he said, “but there’s still a lot of areas we need to improve on. So we’re just going to keep going out there every day and just keep working to get better.”

He said he couldn’t pin down the need for improvement to “one certain area. It’s everything. We need to get faster, learn the plays, understand the concepts better, watch the film. So it’s a little bit of everything.”

He said the same things that work against any defense are important in playing against a no-huddle, fast-paced offense. “We’re doing the same things we’ve been working on the first two weeks and all summer,” he said. “We’re going to go out there and do what we’ve been doing and the outcome will be determined.

“For the most part it’s just simple keys like getting off the ball, knowing the play count, confidence in our movement and stuff. So it’s not really what they do, it’s what we do.”

He said rush off the edge has been ”pretty good, but it’s kind of a team thing.” He said he relies on his fellow defensive linemen to do their jobs and for the cornerbacks to cover receivers long enough to give the front time to have a rush.

One tactic to slow down the rush is to use a quick slant or a screen pass. More work for the defensive line.

“When they’re throwing fast, get your hands up,” Allen said. “If they throw a screen, you have to retrace. That’s what really defeats the screen is when the linemen retrace and run to the ball. That’ll really take away from the screen. So our job’s just beginning as soon as he throws the ball.”

He said he has been able to track down those receivers a couple of times. “I think we’ve been doing a really good job with that,” he said. “Coach has been pleased with that, but always room for more improvement.”

He said the team aspect extends to being recognized as a player of the week. “It feels very good,” he said, “but I have to give all the credit to Coach Kirby (Kirby Smart, defensive coordinator), Coach Bo (Bo Davis, defensive line coach), and my cornerbacks are covering them good, giving me the ability to make plays. So it’s kind of a team effort.”

Allen said the closest thing to a surprise thus far is the game speed. “I don’t know if it’s anything I didn’t see coming,” he said. “I’d probably have to say the game speed. You really can’t prepare for the game speed during the summer. You just have to get used to it as the season goes on.”

Although the game is fast, Allen said that as he’s learned more about the defense and the game, “it has definitely slowed down. As you learn the playbook and the knowledge of the defense grows, you spend more of your focus on playing faster. I think that really helped me out a lot.”

He also appreciates his teammates on the defensive front. “I feel like we’re really athletic,” he said. “We’re athletic deep, so we can constantly rotate in guys and see no drop in skill. So I think that’s really good for us. We’ve been working hard and I think we’re doing a really good job.”

The next test for the second-ranked Crimson Tide is Saturday when Bama hosts Southern Miss at 5 p;.m. CDT in Bryant-Denny Stadium.

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