Alabama looks to regain physical presence on defense

Matthew Speakman

Alabama has lived by having a tough defense year in and year out under coach Nick Saban. Each year, the Crimson Tide loses top talent on the defensive side of the ball to the NFL, and this year is no different as Alabama is looking to restore the physicality it possessed last season.

During its first practice in full pads and helmets on Wednesday, the defense finally got to start working on what they love to do the most: hit.

“I think we’re probably looking forward it [hitting] a little bit more,” said senior Ryan Anderson. “They’ve been trying to rough us up these two days we had in just helmets and jerseys. We’re going to see today.”

Even though the team lost multiple starters, it also saw many of its main contributors decide to stay and play for another year. Players such as Anderson, senior Tim Williams and senior Jonathan Allen opted to come back and help the defense establish its presence.

Anderson still believes that having a great defense is not something that will happen over night.

“You can have all the pieces to a puzzle, it doesn’t mean you’re going to put it together,” Anderson said. “So I feel like everybody has to come back that came back, work and help all the younger guys get better so we can get back to where we just came from. We are starting all over.”

The defensive unit has seen many players shift to different positions. Most notably, junior pass-rushing specialist Rashaan Evans has been working with inside linebackers for all three spring practices. Evans played on the outside last season and frequently came in on third downs to give speed off of the edge.

“He [Evans] brings a lot. He brings quickness,” said senior Reuben Foster. “He can get to the ball much faster, so that’s a win.”

New defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt had his first experiences working with players like Foster and Anderson during the spring. After coaching at Georgia for two years, Pruitt was selected to coach the Crimson Tide’s defense this season.

Pruitt has mostly been seen coaching up the inside linebackers during viewing periods, but when Anderson, who plays outside linebacker, has worked with him, he said there has been a different feel than last season.

“I mean, he [Pruitt] brings a different kind of energy,” Anderson said. “He’s definitely more of a players’ coach. A lot of the guys are more willing to sell out for the guy because he’s willing to do it for us.”

The Crimson Tide is looking to have yet another solid, physical defense when the season returns. Spring practice is giving the defense the first opportunity to go out and hit for the first time since the season ended. When asked who he wanted to hit during the team’s first practice in pads, Anderson simply smiled and said, “Everybody.”

The defense may have a little bit of a different look heading into the 2016–2017 season, but leaders such as Anderson and Foster have embraced their decisions to return to college.

“This is a whole new team, a whole new unit,” Anderson said. “We’re trying to find our identity. So that’s what the spring, that’s what the fourth quarter is about.”