Defensive Reload

Alabama Defensive Coordinator Joe Kines was asked who would be coordinating things in the defensive secondary now that the expressive Roman Harper has departed from the Crimson Tide. Kines ripped off his first mind-bending analogy of the new season.

"We might pick the wrong one if we start picking," he said. "We'll throw ‘em out there and get the water hot and see who boils to the top. Somebody'll rise up."

Kines framed the rest of the defense for the spring this way. "The three places where we're strong are corner and inside [defensive tackle] and outside linebacker. At the defensive end spot and MIKE linebacker spot and safety we've got to find some help."

Replacing Roman and Pep
Of course it's more than the signal-calling that has to be replaced on the Bama defense. Alabama's defense goes without a huddle so the communication responsibilities can fall to any of a number of players who can pick up the pre-snap adjustments that need to be made.

Senior Jeffrey Dukes had a good spring last year, and a productive season in a limited role. He played most of the game on defense in the Cotton Bowl, and is all of a sudden the most experienced safety on the squad.

"This spring is really important to him," Kines said. "He's got a chance to show what he can do now."

Marcus Carter's playing time has been more limited than Dukes', but Kines singled Carter out for high expectations on Monday. Carter and Dukes will be the first players with the opportunity to replace Roman Harper and Charlie Peprah, who have held both safety spots for the past two seasons.

"Marcus Carter has had a really good off-season," Kines said. "Youngsters change. It's like your children as they grow up. They change. They're green. Their expectations and what reality is may be a little different, and they fight through that. But Marcus has had a really good winter.

"From the bowl practice until now he is a different person, and that's to be expected. Children grow. Players grow. Young players become mature and develop into real fine players. Marcus is somewhere along that path right now. He's gotten out of some of those early habits and I think he's ready to really have a good spring."

And Carter isn't the only promising up-and-coming safety. Rashad Johnson, who was a special teams maven in 2005, has been moved to safety with expectations rare from a walk-on.

Rashad Johnson, during the bowl practice, really showed he can run hit you," Kines said. "Hopefully he's found a spot for him in the mix."

Mike Shula also spoke in glowing terms about Johnson.

"He's another one that's very athletic, smart," Shula said. "We're going to take a good look at him at safety and he'll continue to be a core special teams guy for us. He's one of those guys, at the end of spring he could be right in the middle of it competing for playing time or starting time [at safety]."

At middle linebacker, Prince Hall and Matt Collins will get most of the reps in the beginning. Collins had arthroscopic knee surgery after the Cotton Bowl, but is back to 100 percent, Shula said.

Another player who will get a look at middle linebacker is walk-on transfer from Middle Tennessee Darren Mustin.

"During bowl practice he really had a good month," Kines said. "Darren Mustin is a youngster that's looked well in bowl practice and in the off-season. He transferred in from Middle Tennessee and played on the look squads or scout teams all year. When we were able work with some young guys in bowl practice he certainly will hit you and he can run."

Kines said there's room for movement among inside and outside linebackers to field the best combination.

"We're just trying to get the best three linebackers," he said. "Right now they may not be at the same spot they're in when the spring's over. We need to find the best three and three to back them up."

Zo on the Brain
Mike Shula mentioned Lorenzo Washington by name a couple of times Monday, indicating he's one player Shula is expecting to take a long look at in the spring. Washington and Fanney are full-time defensive tackles now, after being tweeners at times during their redshirt season. Shula talked about the importance for Washington and other redshirt players to follow examples set by players in previous years.

"It might be just as important [as having a number of new starters on defense] for guys like Lorenzo Washington or guys that haven't played yet to step in and be able for us to use them in that rotation like we did Terrence Jones two years ago or like we did with Wallace Gilberry his freshman season," Shula said. "That's been one of our keys that we've played a lot of guys every year."

Asked how able the upcoming defense would be to achieve the lofty status of previous two years' defenses, Shula said, "That's the challenge. We want people talking about our football team even though there are guys leaving. The mindset's not ‘this is a rebuilding year' we want to pick up where we left off. So that's how we challenge our guys.

Speaking of that Pass Rush
Shula and Kines both talked about defensive ends and developing pass rushers as being a key area of concern in the spring. In addition to bring in new players at the position, such as Zeke Knight, there's a new coach, too. David Turner has been on the job for less than a month as Bama's new defensive ends coach.

"We feel like he's going to fall right in," Shula said. "Coach Kines and Coach Wyatt will help him a lot with what we're doing. We obviously brought him here because we feel like he can do a lot of things and help this football team win."

Shula said recruiting responsibilities for Turner haven't been sealed, but, "It looks like it's going to be very similar to [departed defensive ends coach] Paul [Randolph]'s"

Shula said his biggest overall concern is replicating the mentality of the previous defenses, not necessarily the talent.

"We had good team speed last year," Shula said. "We didn't have great team speed – there were some other teams out there around the country that had some very fast guys – but we found ways to get to the football. A lot of guys with discipline doing that, they knew their job, they knew where to go. That's what we've got to create with the guys that have to fill the shoes of the seniors that have left."

He also continued to stress replacing the leadership.

"As a team I think the biggest thing we need to find is some leaders. We've got some guys that are good quality players, but all the sudden now they're going to be the oldest guys. As you know it usually comes with your senior group, but when you have as many senior as we had last year that played for three years, we have to put more emphasis as a staff on finding these guys and making sure how important it's going to be to lead and not wait till fall."

Isn't that Special?
Special teams usually takes a back seat, with kicking jobs more often won in the fall than in the spring. But Alabama will have to replace its punter, snapper and holder from the 2005 season.

The good news: P.J. Fitzgerald is the likely guy for two of those jobs. Fitzgerald was the second punter last year, and special teams coordinator Dave Ungerer said he will go into spring as the man to beat for that job. Competing with him will be Justin Martin, who was on the squad last year. Fitzgerald, who did some quarterbacking in high school, will also be the new holder for Jamie Christensen, replacing Matt Miller. Jeff Aul, who had some early punts last year and some early-season kickoffs earlier in his career, is not back with the team, Shula said Monday.

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