Alabama's defense rounding into form

When you ask people about Alabama football, usually the first thing that comes to their mind is a strong running game and a tenacious defense. The most successful coaches in Alabama history have always made those two areas of the game a major focus.

Paul 'Bear' Bryant and Gene Stallings knew that controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball was the key to winning football games. Gene Stallings' '92 defense was so good at times that having an offense take the field seemed an unnecessary nuisance.

Every Alabama defense since then has been measured against that '92 group. Differences in defensive philosophy and the game itself make the two hard to compare. It's a particularly silly comparison when the current team hasn't even taken the field.

There is no denying though that the 2009 defensive version of the Crimson Tide is extremely talented. Head coach Nick Saban and his recruiting staff have taken care in putting together some of the best defensive talent in the country. The defense is anchored by linebacker Rolando McClain, a junior from Decatur, Alabama. McClain led the Tide in tackles in 2008 with 95.

Nick Saban realizes McClain is still young, but at Media Days he was comfortable in pointing out how McClain has matured in more ways than one.

"I think his maturity is not just as a football player, but what he's been able to do as a leader," Saban said. "There are some people who have natural leadership qualities to affect other people. But as you learn and grow as a leader, you learn which people to pat on the back and support and which ones to kick in the tail to get them going when they need it. Ro has certainly matured in that regard, because he is a very good leader."

Dont'a Hightower
With the plethora of talent at the linebacker position Tide coaches have tried multiple variations in an attempt to find the best use of the talent on hand. Likely starters are Cory Reamer outside strongside, McClain at inside strongside, Dont'a Hightower at inside weakside, with the "Jack" or outside weakside position the only question remaining. Senior Eryk Anders performed well there in the first scrimmage. [These are just projections and best guess as to these positions and nothing official as we know a depth chart does not exist.]

True freshman Nico Johnson and Tana Patrick continue to work at inside linebacker positions with Jonathan Atchison working outside.

The defensive line is as deep and strong as any in recent memory. Then again when you have a 6-7, 355 lb potential first round draft choice at nose guard, it tends to elevate the level of play on your defensive line.

Terrence Cody
Terrence "Mount" Cody is flanked by Lorenzo Washington and Brandon Deaderick. The trio is very good at stuffing the run and occupying offensive lineman so the Tide's linebackers can swoop in and make plays.

Cody's weight loss this off-season has been well documented. He'd like to be down to 345 pounds by the time the season opens against Virginia Tech. With 10 pounds still to go Cody says he actually feels stronger than he did at the much heavier weight last season. The mammoth noseguard says it also gives him more energy.

"I'm a whole lot better conditioned and in better shape than I was last year," he said. "I'm lighter than I was last year. It just feels a lot better. I'm not as worn out now as I was last year after practice."

The second line consist of nose guard Josh Chapman surrounded by ends Marcel Dareus and Luther Davis. Dareus is one of the strongest members of the Alabama team. The sophomore had five tackles, two sacks, and two tackles for loss during the Crimson Tide's first scrimmage.

The Tide's secondary continued to take shape during the final two-a-day practices. Javier Arenas and Kareem Jackson appear firmly entrenched as starters at corner [no depth chart, just projections].

True freshman Dre Kirkpatrick continues to work hard and impress coaches and teammates alike. Whether or not he can replace one of the current backups remains to be seen. It's apparent to all who have seen him practice though that his future is undeniably bright.

Robby Green
Sophomores Robby Green and Mark Barron continue to battle for the starting free safety role left vacant by the graduation of Rashad Johnson.

Green exited spring drills playing with the first team at free safety alongside senior Justin Woodall. He stayed there until the second week of Fall Camp when Barron started occupying the spot.

The change had nothing to do with Green's performance and everything to do with Barron's. Saban mentioned in a press conference after the change that he considered the Tide as having three starters at safety with Barron, Green, and Woodall.

Perhaps the biggest question regarding this defense is just how good it can be? The Tide may need to depend on their defense to win games early on while the offense has time to gel.

They may just be up to the task.

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