When Nick Saban arrived as Alabama’s coach following the 2006 football season, he inherited a handful of defensive linemen who were good players, but hardly men in the mold of what Saban was looking for.
Saban had to begin his Alabama career with the likes of Wallace Gilberry 6-3, 254, Bobby Greenwood, 6-6, 245; Brandon Deaderick, 6-4, 230; Lorenzo Washington, 6-4, 265, and Brandon Fanney, 6-5, 270. Again, good players, but far from the size for Saban’s scheme on the defensive line.
Consider the Tide’s defensive front today:
Jonathan Allen the little guy at 6-3, 283; A’Shawn Robinson, 6-4, 312; Jarran Reed, 6-4, 313. And back-ups like Darren Lake, 6-3, 315; Dalvin Tomlinson, 6-3, 294; D.J. Pettway, 6-3, 270; and freshman Da’Ron Payne, 6-2, 315.
That group, along with the linebackers (several of them bigger than those linemen of 2007) wreaked havoc with Mississippi State in the Crimson Tide’s 31-6 win in Starkville Saturday. The group turned in nine sacks on the likely All-Southeastern Conference quarterback, Dak Prescott.
Following the game, Saban said he had expected an advantage for Alabama would be the Tide’s defensive line against the Bulldogs’ offensive line.
Most analysts would say that is an advantage this Alabama team has against every opponent.
Not only are Alabama’s defensive linemen big and strong, they are athletic, and most of them have experience. Moreover, it is more than just the starters. Bama was in on 87 defensive plays against the Bulldogs, but fatigue on the defensive line was not a factor because the Tide rolls in what must seem like waves of linemen. In truth, Bama is two or three deep at all three line positions.
Saban said, “Defensively, we did a good job of affecting the quarterback and played well in the red zone and that was probably the difference in the game.”
One of Bama’s linemen, Jonathan Allen, had seven tackles and three sacks and was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week. Saban said, “I really think Jonathan Allen got it for what he did to me.”
Part of that running men in and out of the game resulted in Allen running by Saban and clipping the coach on the cheek, causing a small cut.
Allen leads the SEC in sacks with 7, helping Bama to lead the league as a team with 38.
Saban was asked what makes Allen such a good pass rusher. “The first thing is knocking the hell out of the coach,” Saban said.
Then Saban added, “Jonathan was a really good high school on-the-edge pass rush guy. Very, very good. I think he has gotten bigger and developed a lot of strength where now he can rush off the edge. But he's a really, really effective inside rusher because he's gotten bigger and stronger. He certainly can play the run a lot better but he's certainly still athletic and he can still move. I think that's the biggest difference.
“Each year he's been here he's gotten a little bigger and a little stronger. He's always been very athletic and has got great first-step quickness. He does a great job of using his hands and moving his feet, which is really critical in being a good pass rusher. He's got enough pop now to turn speed to power on people as well as enough quickness to get by them.
“That usually is the combination that makes a really good pass rusher.”