Alabama is listed as a 3-4 defense, meaning the base defense for the Crimson Tide is three defensive linemen, four linebackers, and four defensive backs. As has been pointed out, Bama almost never is in that defense, perhaps 20 per cent of the time. More often, a linebacker is taken out and replaced by a nickel back, an extra safety known as Star in the Alabama nomenclature.
Coach Nick Saban’s squad begins spring practice this week, a Friday workout that is 10 days ahead of practice number two, which is March 23. The 15 spring practice dates conclude with the A-Day Game in Bryant-Denny Stadium on April 18. This is one in a series looking at positions.
A dozen men will be in spring practice working at the defensive line spots. Although some are tackles and some are ends, in many cases the athletes are capable of playing either. Moreover, those defensive changes that take Bama out of a 3-4 sometime include a four-man front look, usually with an extra end inserted, making the front three ends and a tackle.
With the advent of hurry-up offenses, Saban has been recruiting some different type athletes for the edges, but the Tide coach still favors big, strong men on the defensive line. Theyseem to have a little more quickness, but size and strength continue to be obvious attributes of the defensive front.
A couple of guys are gone from the group that finished last season. Brandon Ivory finished his career as a back-up nose tackle and end Dee Liner, who had played almost not at all in his first two seasons, elected to transfer.
There’s also one newcomer as Jonathan Taylor (6-5, 225) came in with the 2015 signing class after finishing junior college.
The emphasis in the spring may be in developing depth behind established starters. No one doubts the credentials of three men who collectively had a total of 38 of a possible 42 starts last year. All are legitimate all-star candidates. They are:
Jarran Reed, 6-4, 310, senior end, who (with good reason) considered going into the NFL draft this year, but elected to return for his second and final year at Bama. His first year was quite a good one. Reed came from junior college as what seemed to be something of a tag-along with D.J. Pettway, who was returning to the Tide. Reed, who had originally been Florida-bound, finished last year as the leading tackler on the defensive front. He was in on 55 tackles (22 primary) and had one sack and was in on seven tackles for loss. He also broke up five passes.
A'Shawn Robinson, 6-4, 320, junior defensive tackle, who was in on 49 tackles (16 primary) and was in on seven for loss. He has four quarterback pressures, broke up three passes, blocked a kick, and forced a fumble.
Jonathan Allen, 6-3, 264, junior defensive end, who was in on 33 tackles (16 primary) including being in on 12 tackles for loss and six sacks. He had seven quarterback pressures and blocked a kick. Quite an important kick, as it turned out, the extra point try by Arkansas in Fayetteville as Bama escaped with a 14-13 win.
Beyond that are more than a few proven performers, starting with Pettway, a 6-3, 250-pound senior end. He was in on 23 tackles (13 primary) and had three tackles for loss, two sacks, three pass break-ups, and five quarterback pressures. He had one start and played in every game.
Dalvin Tomlinson, a 6-2, 287-pound junior defensive end, also played in every Bama game last year and was in on 22 tackles, including six for losses and two sacks. He had two quarterback pressures.
Other end candidates had less playing time last year, but will have future opportunities. Those certainly include Da’Shawn Hand, a 6-4, 262-pound sophomore who showed in brief moments last year why he had been considered by many to be the nation’s top defensive line prospect. He was in on seven tackles, two of them sacks, in his first year. Korren Kirven, 6-5, 281 junior, was limited last year by injury. Johnny Dwight begins his second year after having been redshirted as a freshman. He’s 6-3, 293.
Darren Lake, a 6-3, 324-pound senior, is top back-up to Robinson at nose tackle. He was effective last year in extensive playing time against the tough running game of LSU. Josh Frazier, 6-3, 330, sophomore, had playing time in half of Bama’s games as a true freshman. O.J. Smith, 6-3, 320, was redshirted last year as a true freshman.