Heading into last season, fans looked to the defense to carry the team while a very young offensive line matured. The hope was that a defense dotted with individual talent would develop into the strength of the squad, but the on-the-field results didn't match expectations. "I probably talked a little too much last (pre-season) about the defense," Torbush said. "Which I didn't really feel comfortable in doing. You can evaluate and critique in practice, but it's not the same as game day."
Spring practice of 2001 was Torbush's first chance to work with his players in person, and he was encouraged by the individual athleticism he saw. But prior to its late-season turnaround, the defense was inconsistent for most of the year.
Torbush commented, "Last year the secondary got beat up, but it wasn't just them. We've got to do a better job coaching. Our front has to do a better job getting pressure. The linebackers have to do a better job of stunting and then recovering. The secondary has to do a better job covering and making plays on balls in the air. And everybody has to do a better job of tackling."
The final numbers showed Alabama ranked 16th in the nation on Rushing Defense--but a very disappointing 95th versus the pass. "Coach Fran said it best," Torbush acknowledged. "You need to see what players are going to do against that other colored helmet in front of those 90,000 people that are screaming bloody murder before you talk about them too much."
No matter how obvious some fans may think the problem was, it's almost never fair to single out a given position for all the blame. But Alabama's secondary--and especially the cornerbacks--came in for tremendous criticism last year. "Just like the quarterback, the fans know who (the cornerback) is," Torbush said. "They know what his number is. If that cornerback does well, he's going to get a tremendous amount of credit.
"If he doesn't do well, he's going to get the blame."
Bolstered by improved defensive play overall, the Tide secondary performed much better during Bama's season-ending four-game winning streak. And that improvement carried over into spring drills.
One of the main reasons Tide fans trust that the progress will continue is the influx of new talent from a talented group of redshirt freshmen. Torbush commented, "The young guys that intrigue me--though I don't like to talk about them before they actually do it on the field--are guys like Roman Harper, Anthony Madison and Charlie Peprah. Those are the guys that should continue to improve."
Madison and Peprah will battle for playing time at cornerback, while Harper should play early and often at free safety. All three are fast and physical, leading many to predict great things right off the bat.
But Torbush is reluctant to say too much too soon, cautioning that the talented trio needs the leeway develop at their own pace. "Even though I like where they're at right now, I'm like Coach Fran," Torbush said. "I think we've talked more about them more than we need to.
"They've got to get it done in a real game and not against each other."