Torbush expects improvement

Without question Tide fans are looking to Coordinator Carl Torbush to work some defensive magic. For several seasons the unit has underachieved, playing good in some stretches only to inexplicably give up big plays on third and long. "There are two simple phases of football," Torbush explained. "Blocking and tackling. That hasn't really changed over history. And I don't think there's any doubt we've made strides fundamentally."

Beginning last spring and continuing through Fall Camp, practice observers have noted something rarely seen in recent years. Intense, repetitive drills designed to turn the Tide defenders into tackling machines. "We go the extra mile teaching," Torbush continued. "If you're fast and you're quick and you can hit and you get taught a little bit, then you ought to be a pretty good tackler.

"During practice we go through circuit drills on tackling. We try to work every different area of tackling that can possibly surface. And we also work on every possible opportunity that can surface on takeaways. We try to cover it all, and we try to cover it every day."

Under Torbush's direction, the Tide defense practices the fundamentals of tackling every day.

With a resume' that includes developing outstanding defenses first at Ole Miss and then more famously for the Tar Heels of North Carolina, Torbush brings years of proven experience to his task. "Hopefully we'll be able to see a defense that is pressure-oriented," he said. "An attacking defense that's relentless. We want people to say we played awful hard. If they don't do that, then we'll be disappointed.

"Coach Fran won't put up with that."

Since hiring his new defensive coordinator back in January, Franchione has given Torbush pretty much free rein to do his job. But in at least one way the new schemes will resemble what Franchione is doing on offense. Explained Torbush, "It'll be a defense that's multiple, that can adjust to different things. We want to give our kids a chance to be successful.

"What does that mean? That means if we're good enough to play man, great. But if not we've got to be able to do a great job of disguising (the coverages)."

Even though Torbush clearly intends to reintroduce the blitz to the Bama vocabulary, don't think that he believes in an all-or-nothing, live-with-the-blitz-or-die gambling scheme.

Not at all.

"We're an aggressive attacking defense, but we're sound," he said firmly. "That means we're going to have all the gap controls taken care of. All the option responsibilities taken care of and hopefully all deep balls taken care of. If we're able to do that, take care of our jobs and then run to the ball, then we've got a chance to be a good defensive football team.

With returning veterans like starting cornerback Gerald Dixon practicing an aggressive, ball-hawking style, the Tide secondary should be improved.

"But if you say we're going to make big plays and also give up big plays, no, that's not how we are going to work. We'll make consistent plays. And if we make those, then we'll eventually come up with big ones."

As Torbush explains, college football has changed. Liberalized pass-blocking rules coupled with innovations on offense have opened up the game like never before. And a defense that plays on its heels, hoping to read and react to the play in time will find itself a step behind the whole game.

Relates Torbush, "We're going to attack and press the line of scrimmage. But we have to be smart. Ideally we'd like to play bump-and-run with our corners and put about nine guys up on the line of scrimmage and dare people to throw. But we've also got to be smart. We can't do that unless we've got (cornerbacks) that can handle that."

Which raises the one topic that worries him the most: Bama's young and definitely inexperienced secondary. "The biggest concern right now is consistency," Torbush acknowledged. "We've got to make plays on the ball when we have a chance. We haven't given up an awful lot of big plays (in practice), but you stay concerned. You can't get beat deep. The cornerbacks and safeties have got to be able to make plays when the ball is in the air."

Together with long-time colleague Ron Case (Safeties) and Cornerbacks Coach Chris Thurmond, Torbush has helped to work a mini-miracle among the Tide DBs. Starting with a group of talented but green athletes, the Tide staff has produced an aggressive, promising unit.

But that improvement has to continue. "In the secondary we've got to make sure we keep the ball in the ballpark," Torbush admitted. "That we do a great job of making plays on balls in the air. That's a big key. When that ball is in the air and we miss it by (an inch) and (the receiver) catches it, then that's not very good. In those situations we've got to intercept it or knock it down."

Led by a now-healthy Kindal Moorehead and Jarret Johnson (#96), the Tide defensive front could be very good.

Since first taking over the squad last winter, the Tide coaches have consistently named the secondary as a concern on defense. But the good news is that Alabama should be athletic enough along the defensive line and in its linebacking corps to make up for the worries.

"We do like our front seven," Torbush acknowledged. "We feel like they've got some athletic ability and some quickness, and we're going to give those guys a chance to make plays. What we've got to be able to do is stay healthy, play up to the best of our ability and then I think our front seven can be good."

Year after year during his successful defensive tenure at North Carolina, Torbush sent numerous athletes into the pros. So he certainly recognizes talent when he sees it. "Back in the mid-90s, (North Carolina) had some great defensive teams," he said. "A bunch of those guys are playing pro football right now. I think our front seven up front has got some guys that can run. We've got some guys that are athletic and can hit. And not only that but we've got some guys that are smart--smart football players."

With gifted athletes at his disposal, Torbush understands that in the early going at least it may very well fall to the Bama defense to carry the day. And he's not backing down from the challenge. "Their athletic ability is good, which should allow them to tackle well," he said. "This last week we want to tie some loose ends together--make sure we continue to tackle better--make sure our alignments continue to improve. That's going to be a key for us.

"But so far they've met the challenge."


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