Saban Discusses Pressure On Passes

Alabama Coach Nick Saban was able to make a little sense of the conflicting information spread during last football season. Although the Crimson Tide ranked among the nation's top teams in most defensive categories, including success against opposing offenses on third down plays, Bama did not rank high in sacks.

Following the first Alabama scrimmage of fall camp at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday, Saban said that much more than making sacks goes into having defensive success.

The Tide coach said, "I don't want to overstate the importance of sacks because I think that‘s what everybody views pressure as. Affecting the quarterback, whether you bat the ball, push the pocket -- so the guy can't step and throw it down the middle because we're really trying to defend the middle of the field and make him throw it sideways -- all those things, to me, are just as important as sacks."

Nevertheless, it was difficult not to take notice of some of the defensive statistics from Saturday's scrimmage. Only one Bama quarterback had a completion record over 50 per cent. Greg McElroy, who is expected to be the starting quarterback, completed 17 of 29 passes for 188 yards and one touchdown and was not intercepted.

Saban cautioned not to make too much of any statistics. Thomas Darrah, the walk-on quarterback, completed 5-11 for 109 yards and two touchdowns and no interceptions. Star Jackson was 5-13 for 40 yards, no touchdowns, one interception, and true freshman A.J. McCarron 6-14 for 21 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception.

Again, it's difficult to make too much of raw statistics when one hasn't seen the scrimmage (and Saban doesn't allow reporters to view any substantive part of practice). Which offensive linemen were the defenders trying to defeat? What were the circumstances of downfield coverage? In the case of an Alabama scrimmage, there's also the matter of the quick whistle, protecting quarterbacks by calling a play dead if a defender is close enough to possibly make the sack.

But there were some interesting numbers from some interesting defensive players regarding the rush.

Dont'a Hightower, who may or may not have moved from inside linebacker to jack linebacker for the scrimmage, was second only to middle linebacker Rolando McClain in tackles (McClain 8, Hightower 7). Hightower's defensive stats line also included two tackles for loss, one sack, and one pass broken up. That says he was spending some time in the offensive backfield, and that affects the passing game.

Eryk Anders, who was the back-up jack linebacker last year and considered something of a third down pass rush specialist, had four tackles, three behind the line, and added three sacks.

Other interesting defensive numbers included defensive end Marcell Dareus making five tackles, two tackles for loss, and two sacks.

Saban said, "We have nine goals on defense of things that we want to accomplish and none of them say anything about sacks. Passing efficiency and affecting the quarterback is one. But sacks are not the only way you affect the quarterback. Not allowing him to throw the ball on time, making him move in the pocket, not allowing him to step up in the pocket, getting close to him and batting balls -- all those things affect the quarterback. Hitting him right when he throws it. And I think we did that okay last year.

"I think we are probably getting a little more pressure. I think we're able to utilize some of our players a little better that we have that can rush. That last year, whether it was (lack of) experience or too many position multiples we weren't able to do, we've been able to do that this spring and that's helped us to some degree.

"I didn't think we did a very good job of finishing and I didn't think we had a dominant pass rusher that could create problems for the offense but I think we're better in those areas right now."

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