No time for reflection on defense

Asked to assess his unit's progress so far this season, Tide Defensive Coordinator Joe Kines politely declined. <br><br>"That ‘far along' question gets me every week," Kines said with a laugh. "During the season I don't know that you have time to stop and evaluate where you are."

"Our main concern the last week has been getting ready for Kentucky," he explained.

The main worry before the season was Bama's defensive line. It wasn't that the Tide didn't have talent, because clearly Odom and Co. compare favorably with virtually any team in the country. But three of last year's starters are now playing in the NFL, and Kines himself wondered if Bama could replace their production.

Weakside linebacker Demeco Ryans leads the Tide in tackles with 23.

So far, so good.

"So far we've been pretty strong up front," Kines said. "We're making some steady improvement on the inside. We're making it on Saturdays, which is really important. The (defensive linemen) are practicing hard and they've been productive on Saturday."

Derrick Pope and Demeco Ryans are new starters at linebacker, but after an uneven beginning on opening day the group is playing well. Kines commented, "Our linebackers did a good job last week, but I didn't think they did as well the first game. I've been proud of the whole group as a unit.

"And our secondary has been well supporting all year."

So far, the Tide has garnered only one sack. Odom got him one the first week versus South Florida. But perhaps surprisingly to some, Kines isn't worried at all.

"Sacks have no bearing on the outcome of a game; pressure does," he stated flatly. "Knocking a quarterback down nine times is just as good as three sacks.

"The giveaway/takeaway ration has a direct bearing on a ball game," Kines continued. "If you take away the ball more than you give it up, you're going to win the game most often. Sacks don't. There is no stat that says sacks have anything to do with winning or losing. It's a big thing for a defensive lineman. But winning or losing the game has nothing to do with it."

Defensive end Antwan Odom has had a good start, totaling six tackles, one sack, two pass break-ups, three quarterback hurries and a forced fumble. (Barry Fikes photo)

According to Kines pressuring the quarterback--getting in his face and bothering the pass and then smacking the passer around after he releases the football--is far more important than the occasional sack.

After two games, Tide rushers have totaled 21 quarterback hurries.

"We are getting pressure, so I'm happy," Kines said. "Just don't let the quarterback stand back there and hold the ball."

As Kines explained, the modern passing game can make it awfully difficult to actually sack the QB. "When they're working from the shotgun, it's almost impossible sometimes to get the sack. The guy's got the ball. He knows you're coming. The route is designed for him to be able to get rid of it. It's not a situation where you have much control over getting there. When (the quarterback) is in a shotgun throwing a three-step route, Superman couldn't get there and get him on the ground.

"But get in his face and try to pressure him--that's what you try to do."

After two games Alabama's stop unit has garnered 149 tackles, 55 of which come from its linebackers. Demeco Ryans and Derrick Pope are first and second on the team in terms of tackles.

Derrick Pope (#6) and Ryans (#35) tackle the Oklahoma runner. (Getty Images)

"Our first game we were kind of concerned, but last week (the linebackers) did extremely well," Kines said. "We want that same mix going this week. They've stuck together in practice. They're fun to work with in a game. They know what's going on.

"We've just got to get some people well, so we can help our depth."

Pope had 14 tackles versus Oklahoma last week. But Ryans and Freddie Roach--both only sophomores on the field--have been equally impressive.

Kines commented on his two youngsters. "I don't know that (those two) are playing above their head, because both guys really have ability. They'll just keep getting better. They really like to play. Their physical play gives us something to build on."

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