Defensive Line Coach Stan Eggen explained the goal; "We go into each game wanting to set a tone with our defensive linemen. Because of protection and some of the (veteran) quarterbacks we faced prior to Arkansas, they did some things that didn't allow us to get as many hits on the quarterback or sacks. But (against the Razorbacks) it worked out for us."
"It was different schemes," said left tackle Jarret Johnson explaining Bama's inability to get to the quarterback the first two games. "UCLA and Vanderbilt used a three-step drop (by the quarterback) and they max protected. Arkansas tried a more traditional drop-back. They challenged us, and we stepped up to the challenge and made plays.
"Last week was definitely better," agreed starting nose tackle Kenny King. "We went out with less blitzing, basically just trying to beat our man one-on-one. I thought we did pretty good."
‘Pretty good' is an understatement.
After managing only two sacks in its first two games, Bama's D-Linemen enjoyed a breakout effort last Saturday, running over and around the Razorback offense for a seven-sack performance. "We needed some sacks," Johnson acknowledged. "We knew that, and we were going after it. It felt good to finally make some plays and put the ball in the end zone ourselves. Saturday was fun."
So far this season, the Tide coaches have rotated ten athletes on the defensive line. Jarret Johnson, Anthony Bryant, Kenny King, David Daniel and Derek Sanders have principally worked on the inside. While Kindal Moorehead, Aries Monroe, Todd Bates, Antwan Odom and Nautyn McKay-Loescher have played mainly at end.
Moorehead's 2.5 sacks lead the unit, with Johnson (2), King (0.5), Monroe (2) and McKay-Loescher (1) also contributing. Moorehead also leads in quarterback hurries with five, Monroe is just behind with four, King and Johnson have two each, and Sanders is credited with one.
Most fans assume that pass rushing is purely athletic--with the quicker, stronger and faster linemen blowing by hapless blockers to the quarterback. Of course it's true that athleticism is hugely important, but technique counts for just as much success.
And it's Eggen's job to school the Tide linemen in how to free themselves from offensive linemen. "We've worked hard on staying active with our hands and our feet. And that allowed us to get off the blocks."
But football is mostly a team game. And the performance of Bama's defensive backs and linebackers also played a key role in the line's success. Eggen explained; "The secondary did a great job in coverage, and the linebackers did a great job underneath. Because of the coverages, the Arkansas quarterbacks held the ball a little bit longer. And we were able to come off blocks."
"We had several effort sacks," Eggen continued. "Where the guys just did not give up. And those can also be credited as being coverage sacks. You've got the receivers blanketed. The quarterback looks one, two--there's nowhere to go. Then all of a sudden our guy continuing to move his feet and hands gets there. Hopefully we can continue to build from it."
King believes that it was only a matter of time before Bama's D-Line talent made itself known. "I think it was our confidence level," he explained. "Starting the year there were a lot of position changes (notably King moving from end to nose tackle).
"A lot of people were wondering about what they had to do. Why this and why that. Now we understand better what our coaches are trying to do. We went out Saturday and showed them."
Of course one game does not a trend make. And looming this week is a road game against the suddenly formidable Gamecocks from the SEC East. "South Carolina is a very good ball club," Johnson said, assessing Bama's chances. "They're incredible in how they just find ways to win. They've got good players, and the defensive line will have to be ready again."