Defense must prove its progress on game day

With football practices closed to all but select visitors, it's impossible for the average fan to see how hard Alabama works every day to improve. That's especially true on defense, where Coordinator Carl Torbush has been conducting intense workouts all season--but with decidedly mixed results during games. "I think we're making strides each and every day in practice," he said. "But it's hard to say we've made improvement until we play."

"What we've got to do is take the improvement we're making in practice and transfer it to the game."

Several young players (notably in the secondary) are being counted on to contribute. And in recent games opponents have dominated the Bama D in the fourth quarter. "We have made some improvement game-wise," Torbush stated. "But until we're able to make some big plays in key situations--especially late in a tight game--then the general public is not going to see that."

Shown coaching Jason Rawls (#43) in a tackling drill, Carl Torbush has drilled the Tide defense on fundamentals all season long.

In a profession full of demanding personalities, Torbush is one of the most intense. And Alabama's recent struggles on defense have frankly not been easy to take.

But the best thing about a youthful depth chart is that things can only get better. Torbush explained; "Most of these guys are back next year, so that's a plus. You can't buy experience. I'm excited about where we've got a chance to go. We're not there yet by any means. We're not close. But if we continue the good and correct the bad, then we've got a chance to get to where we need to be."

After a tough, physical game against Tennessee, the Tide had an off week to heal up and catch its collective breath. "The open week helped," Torbush acknowledged. "I thought we got our legs back under us."

But without a game to prepare for on Saturday, the Bama coaches took advantage and conducted grueling practices not seen since fall two-a-days. "It was a physical week last week," Torbush said. "The players responded very well to everything I threw at them. We got after it pretty hard, especially Tuesday and Wednesday. It was hard hitting, but they responded well. I think we made a lot of improvement.

"I've been tremendously amazed at the day-in and day-out work habits. We've had some bad practices, but I can't think of very many we've had. I think that's a direct reflection on Coach (Franchione) and what he demands of the guys."

Besides getting in extra ‘good versus good' scrimmage snaps, the Tide defense worked to improved the basics of tackling and pass coverage. "We continued to do what we do every week," Torbush related. "We really work hard on the fundamentals."

Having already faced several talented quarterbacks this season, things won't get any easier for the Tide secondary. LSU's Rohan Davey will easily be the strongest QB Alabama has yet faced, and he throws the ball very well.

With the decision to redshirt him now firm, Brodie Croyle has been working with the scout team.

In practice it's the offensive scout team's responsibility to prepare the Tide defense for game day. And two true freshmen are making things tough on the Bama DBs. Torbush explained; "In practice we continuously throw it deep. We've got some quarterbacks, Spencer Pennington and Brodie Croyle, that can throw it deep and put us in tough situations. And we've got some good receivers that can challenge them. We'll continue to do that."

Along with Croyle, Spencer Pennington provides a potent one-two QB punch on the scout team.

Yielding 227.6 yards per game, the Tide secondary is rated eighth-best in the SEC. "Just like the quarterback gets beat up when things don't go well on offense, the secondary gets beat up every week," Torbush said. "I do feel like our secondary has made some strides. We're getting better.

"But at the same time we've got to get better at linebacker and along the defensive front. That all goes hand in hand. I wish I could just blame it on one guy or one position, but that's not the case."

One of the problems has been at cornerback. Several talented athletes play the position, but so far no one has stepped forward to lead the defense. "Right now we've got three of them that compete week to week for the starting job--Hirchel (Bolden), Gerald (Dixon) and Bert McBride," Torbush said. "We'll do what we've done every week. We'll select the starter from what they've done Tuesday through Thursday. It's a fluid rotation, because when we got to a nickel scheme all three will be in there anyway."

Barring further injuries, the Tide coaches would dearly love to redshirt Freddie Roach (#8).

Besides his responsibilities as defensive coordinator, Torbush is also the position coach for linebackers. "Our linebackers were banged up," he said. "But with the off week they're about to get their legs back under them. I like the improvement there. The three guys starting there have a chance to be a very solid group."

In Saleem Rasheed (middle), Brooks Daniels (Rover) and Cornelius Wortham (strongside), Alabama has a talented and athletic linebacking corps. But following the loss of backup Rover Jason Rawls to a season-ending knee injury, depth is now a concern. "The sad thing is that Jason really had improved the last two or three weeks," Torbush related. "I saw him make tremendous strides getting more physical and getting himself into position where he could be a pretty good football player. Hopefully he'll be able to come back."

Even though it's the third injury to the same knee, Rawls could return following surgery. But his loss this season will require some shuffling of personnel. "It does present some problems," Torbush acknowledged. "We want to redshirt Freddie Roach (reserve middle linebacker and a true freshman). Adam Cox will undoubtedly play more. Victor Ellis will have to be able to play inside and outside. Darius Gilbert is having to play (middle linebacker and defensive end) right now.

"It's that time of year. What depth you have has got to step forward and get the job done."

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