'Bama By the Numbers: DEFENSE

CLEMSON - A closer look at 24th-ranked Alabama on the defensive side of the ball.

DEFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 5

2007 RUSHING DEFENSE RANK: 28 (124 yards/game)

2007 PASSING DEFENSE RANK: 48 (221 yards/game)

2007 SCORING DEFENSE RANK: 27 (22 points/game)

2007 TOTAL DEFENSE RANK: 31 (345 yards/game)

Five starters return for Alabama on defense this season, led by All-SEC safety Rashad Johnson. A former walk-on, Johnson led the Crimson Tide last year with 81 tackles and six interceptions.

Sophomore corner Kareem Jackson also showed signs of strong play a year ago in his first season on the field, garnering first-team All-SEC freshman honors after recording 66 tackles and three interceptions in 13 starts.

In all, three of four starters return in the secondary.

One of the top young linebackers in the SEC will bolster the middle in Rolando McClain. McClain started eight games in 2007 and was named a First-team Sporting News Freshman All-American and a first-team freshman All-SEC performer as well.

On the season, he recorded 75 total tackles, including five for loss and two interceptions.

Up front, Alabama lost All-SEC end Wallace Gilberry, but two starters return in junior end Brandon Deaderick and nose guard Lorenzo Washington.

Last year's defensive coordinator Kevin Steele is back, sort of. Steele looked around for other positions before deciding to remain at Alabama. Nick Saban then decided to promote former Georgia DB Kirby Smart to coordinator.

Don't be fooled however as Saban is the ultimate man behind the Alabama defense. He's as hands-on a coach as you'll find in all of college football.

The Crimson Tide's base defense is a 3-4 scheme and while there aren't experienced stars all over the field, keep in mind it was essentially the same last year and Alabama was still essentially a top 30 unit overall.

Also keep in mind the Alabama defense held the opposition to two touchdowns or less on four occasions last season, yet the offense failed to score enough points to win, including losses to Mississippi State, Florida State and Louisiana-Monroe.

In addition, as Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden has maintained for months, the Tigers will deal with one of the top defensive minds in the game in Saban and he's had a long time to install a complicated game plan for the season opener.

The bottom line is Alabama's defense, while having to replace six starters, will still be formidable, especially with Clemson bringing in three or four new starters on the offensive line.

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