Rebuilding Or Reloading?

No one questions that Joe Kines is an outstanding defensive coordinator. For the past few years Alabama's defense has been outstanding. That was particularly true in 2005, and everyone expected the slight dropoff that occurred this season.

Alabama was in the top ten in the nation in most defensive categories in 2005. But that group included seven seniors, many of whom – notably DeMeco Ryans and Mark Anderson – are now starring in the National Football League.

The bad news for Bama's defensive future is that a year after losing seven starters to graduation, this year the Tide defense included six senior starters: two defensive backs, two linebackers, and two linemen. Four of Alabama's top six tacklers will not return next season.

The seniors in the secondary include Bama's leading tackler, strong safety Jeffrey Dukes (41 primary tackles and 33 assists) and cornerback Ramzee Robinson, a three-year starter and four-year regular who was sixth in tackles.

Juwan Simpson, a three-year starter who was Bama's second-leading tackler (73 total), and Terrence Jones, fifth in tackles, are graduating linebackers.

Although they didn't rank high in tackles, the Tide must also replace two starting defensive tackles, Jeremy Clark (a starter for most of his four-year career) and Dominic Lee.

If Kines had all the players he wanted, it is likely that the base defense would be a 4-3 – two defensive ends, two defensive tackles, three linebackers, and four defensive backs.

Alabama did not have all the players it needed in 2006 and the Crimson Tide spent most defensive downs in an alignment with two ends, one tackle, three linebackers and five defensive backs. Kines was obviously compensating for a lack of defensive tackles.

Among other things, the three-man defensive front made it difficult for Alabama to get sacks, or even to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Even though an adage has it that the defense can more easily cover up for a weakness than can the offense (where if one player breaks down the play often fails), it doesn't take an opposing offense long to find and exploit defensive deficiencies.

Next year Bama will have its work cut out in replacing Simpson and Jones at linebacker. Upcoming sophomore Prince Hall appears headed for stardom at middle linebacker after finishing his first season as the Tide's third-leading tackler (71) and tops in tackles for losses (10.5). Look for Zach Schreiber to make quick strides at an outside spot. There are other experienced outside linebackers and Matt Collins is reliable with Hall at middle linebacker.

A large number of scholarshipped defensive backs offers promise for a good secondary, headed by returning starters Simeon Castille at cornerback and Rashad Johnson and Marcus Carter, who split time at safety, as well as experienced backups like Lionel Mitchell and Eric Gray at cornerback.

Alabama had solid play at defensive end with 2007 returnees Wallace Gilberry on the left side and Bobby Greenwood and Keith Saunders splitting starts at right end.

The biggest gaps in the 2007 lineup appear to be the same ones of 2006. In addition to losing Clark and Lee at defensive tackle, Bama also graduates the number one backup in J.P. Adams.

When spring practice begins in February, the tackle corps will be made up of four very inexperienced players. In fact, as a group the four returning defensive tackles had no more tackles combined than did the likes of fullback Le'Ron McClain or snapper Luke Spaulding.

Brandon Deaderick is the most experienced of the defensive tackles and he was a defensive end when he came to Bama two years ago. Lorenzo Washington and Brandon Fanney, who spent a year in prep school before coming to Alabama in 2005, were involved a little more as the season progressed. Byron Walton's playing time was limited almost exclusively to mop-up work. All were redshirt freshmen this season.

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