Unfortunately, last year's mid-season statistics don't lie. In that awful eighth game, the LSU Tigers blistered the Tide defense for 611 total yards, with 528 of them coming via the arm of quarterback Rohan Davey. This came after a 480-yard effort by Tennessee against the Tide and 430 total yards by Ole Miss, all resulting in losses for the Tide.
But the next four games, the numbers dropped--the yardage total was as few as 272 allowed to Auburn, and the Tide won all four games. The Tide went from a team that couldn't stop anyone when it counted, to a respectable 7-5 with an improving defense.
This year, key returning defenders say that is something to build on. "It's (the defense) improved on speed itself and playing hard," defensive lineman Kenny King said. "We've been working together as a team, the last four games we stepped up."
Linebacker Brooks Daniels says that the entire front seven (defensive line and linebackers) have all improved, especially after a year in defensive coordinator Carl Torbush's system.
"The front seven made minimal mistakes (in the spring)," Daniels said. "Everybody knows the defense now. When Coach Torbush calls the play, everyone knows what to do, when last year we made mistakes. We understand the defense better.
"To me, our front seven is great. Our cornerbacks are physical, they go after the ball, they fight for the ball."
Daniels also had praise for his defensive coordinator, whom he said has taught him a lot and really helped him develop into a solid linebacker. "I've learned a lot of stuff from (Torbush)," Daniels said. "(I've learned) where to put my hands, shedding blockers to make tackles. I've learned a great deal."
Defensive lineman Jarrett Johnson said that the depth is a factor to an improved defense this year. "We have more experience," Johnson said. "I think we've added some players. The defensive line has more depth. The second and third string defensive line got more reps in the spring because me and Kindal (Moorehead) were hurt."
Experience will be a key for a defense that finished up strong, but took a hit when middle linebacker Saleem Rasheed, the team's leading tackler last year, declared early for the NFL Draft. Redshirt freshman Freddie Roach is one of the top candidates to take his place, but will be pushed hard by junior college All-American Derrick Pope.
However, teammates like what they have seen in Roach. "He's going to be a good player for us," Johnson said.
But what will help contribute to the defense is the depth, particularly the newcomers. Several players redshirted last year and will be counted on to contribute on the defensive line, linebacker, and in the secondary.
"Jason Rawls, Mark Anderson, Juke King, Freddie Roach, all of those guys have stepped up big time," Daniels said, about his fellow linebackers. "Some of the players came from different positions. To learn new positions, they came along real good. We have a solid two-deep."
"Antwan Odom and Nautyn McKay-Loescher have played but haven't had a lot of playing time," said Kenny King. "I'm looking forward to having them step up."
Odom and McKay-Loescher weren't the only defensive linemen who have performed well. Several players are making position changes from the offensive to defensive line. "Atlas (Herrion) came over and moved to defense," Johnson said. "Bart Raulston, Anthony Bryant, they all improved a great deal because they got so many reps (in the spring)."