First Look: Alabama Defense

Names and numbers may change but the results stay the same: the gold standard for defensive football over the last four football seasons is Alabama. Bamamag.com publisher Kirk McNair presents Irisheyes.com subscribers with five key Crimson Tide defenders to watch for the BCS Championship game next month in Miami.

The teams that will meet in Miami Gardens on Jan. 7 for the BCS National Championship, No. 1 Notre Dame (12-0) and No. 2 Alabama (12-1), owe their lofty rankings in great part to defensive performance.

Alabama won the 2011 national championship and finished first in the nation in virtually every defensive category – scoring defense, rushing defense, passing defense, total defense, and third down defense. This year the Crimson Tide of Coach Nick Saban has the opportunity to play for the national title because the defense is first in total defense and second (to Notre Dame) in scoring defense.

Alabama defeated two top ten teams and another (Michigan) top 25 team en route to the meeting with Notre dame. For the year, Alabama has outscored opponents 500-139, allowing just 10.7 points per game.

The Tide has allowed 79.8 yards per game rushing, 166.2 yards per game passing, total offense of 246 yards, 32 percent third down conversions (59-182), and 63 per cent Red Zone scores (17-27). Bama has intercepted 17 passes and recovered 11 fumbles.

Alabama defensive success is accomplished with good players. Here are five to watch when the Crimson Tide meets the Fighting Irish at Sun Life Stadium:  

LB #32 C.J. Mosley -- Mosley, a 6-2, 232-pound junior, didn't sneak up on anyone this year. He was a freshman All-America in 2010 and a regular on the 2011 national championship team. He started this season with an interception and return for touchdown in the opening game against Michigan – his Bama record third career interception return for touchdown.

Although Mosley splits time with Nico Johnson at weakside linebacker (an inside position in Alabama's system) and plays mostly in nickel and dime situations, Bama is almost always in either nickel or dime, so Mosley gets more playing time. He was recently named Alabama's most valuable player at the team banquet and is a first team All-Southeastern Conference selection.

Mosley is the far-and-away defensive leader this year with 61 primary tackles and 31 assists (99 total) with seven tackles for 46 yards in losses and four sacks. He has two interceptions, two pass break-ups, and a quarterback hurry, and has caused and recovered a fumble.

Each week the Alabama coaching staff cites players of the game on offense, defense, and special teams -- almost always more than one in each category with a weekly total of about a half dozen. Mosley was selected all but one week, and in that week he led the Tide in tackles.

On the final play of Alabama's 32-28 victory over Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, a pass by the Bulldogs was tipped by Mosley. There was no official statistic on the tip because it was caught by an unintended Georgia receiver, who fell to the ground five yards short of the end zone as the clock expired.

CB #28 Dee Milliner -- As Alabama prepared for the 2012 season, there was great concern about a secondary that had graduated three starters (two of them first round NFL draft choices). Milliner, a 6-1, 200-pound junior, was not listed as a returning starter, even though he had started 11 games as a freshman in 2010 (and earned Freshman All-America) and six on the 2011 national championship team (primarily because the Tide ordinarily starts games with three cornerbacks, one playing nickel).

Milliner started every game this year and was a unanimous choice for All-SEC. He was co-defensive player of the year (with linebacker) Nico Johnson as announced at the Tide's team banquet. He led the SEC in passes affected with two interceptions (returned for 35 yards) and 18 pass break-ups. He also caused and recovered a fumble and blocked a kick and was in on two sacks. Milliner was fifth on the team in tackles with 33 primary stops and 18 assists (51 total).

He has six career interceptions, 34 pass break-ups, and has been in on 133 tackles and is a finalist for both the Nagurski and Thorpe awards.

DE #92 Damion Square -- Square's Alabama career did not get off to a great start. He was held out in his true freshman season in 2008 and then suffered a torn ACL in the second game of 2009. For the past three years, though, he has made up for it. He played in all 13 games in 2010 with six starts, and started every game in 2011 and this season.

At this year's team banquet he was announced as one of Alabama's permanent team captains (along with offensive linemen Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack). He was also named the team's "Most Inspiring Player."

Square leads the Tide with nine quarterback pressures and was in on four sacks. He has had 11 primary tackles and 22 assists, including four tackles for loss and has a fumble recovery.

NT #54 Jesse Williams -- Even if Williams wasn't a high-profile player on a high-profile college football team, he would be notable. During the season he clipped off his pony tail, leaving a stub at the back of his shaved head. He said he thought he'd make it a little easier to be inconspicuous – and then admitted it is difficult for a 6-4, 320-pounder with tattoos from head to toe to blend in.

Williams has relatively modest statistics – seven primary tackles, 29 assists, one sack, one quarterback hurry, and one blocked kick – but that's because it's his job to engage blockers. And he draws a crowd, ordinarily two and sometimes three.

Williams is one of 13 Australians playing college football in the United States, but the senior is one of only four non-punters playing.

At the team banquet he was given the Iron Man Award, understandable considering his much-publicized summer bench press of 600 pounds.

Williams was second team All-SEC.

S #37 Robert Lester -- Lester was hardly noticed in the Alabama recruiting class of 2008, other than noted as the teammate of wide receiver Julio Jones, one of Bama's top signees in that recruiting class. Moreover, Lester was held out in his first season and played only sparingly on the 2009 national championship team.

Since then, though, Lester has been a three-year starter at safety. In this year's regular season finale, a 49-0 win over Auburn, Lester recorded his fourth interception of the season and his 14th career interception, which ranks third in Alabama history. He also ranks eighth in career interception return yards with 183.

In 2010, Lester led the Southeastern Conference and was second in the nation with eight interceptions and was second team All-America. This year he was second team All-SEC.

In the Nick Saban defensive schemes, safeties have to make tackles and Lester ranks sixth for the Tide in that category. He was in on 42 tackles, 21 primary and 21 assist, including being in on four tackles behind the line and two sacks. He returned his four interceptions for 51 yards. He also had three pass break-ups and recovered a fumble.      
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