Bama defense returning talent this season

Bama+defense+returning+talent+this+season

Laura Owens

HOOVER, Ala. | Unlike last season, Alabama’s defense in 2011 can boast a year’s worth of experience. Most of last year’s starters are returning, making the Crimson Tide’s defense a force to be reckoned with.

Head coach Nick Saban said maturity and experience isn’t everything, though.

“You can challenge yourself that ‘I have experience now’ and ‘I’ve learned from mistakes that I’ve made in the past’, and ‘I’m going to play with more consistency in the future because of it’ and challenge yourself to get to the next level,” Saban said. “That’s really what great competitors do. I’m hopeful that’s what the people in our secondary will do, to challenge themselves.”

Safety Mark Barron said the inexperience in last year’s defense might have hurt them in certain circumstances where the players didn’t know what to expect.

“If those certain situations come about again, they know, they’ve already experienced that,” Barron said. “Maybe they won’t be nervous or fidgety or whatever it was that had them.”

Linebacker Dont’a Hightower said he believes this year’s defense is one of the best he’s played on at Alabama and also mentions the 2009 National Championship defense.

“I feel like we have exactly what it takes,” Hightower said. “It’s all about how we go out and use it, how we take advantage of the sources we have, whether it be coaching, getting in with coaches and watching a little bit of film and getting an extra workout. I feel like all of that is going to come up to that because we have the right coaches and the right players. It’s about how we use it.”

One of the main focuses for the defense in 2011 will be getting more pressure on the opposing team’s quarterback.

“Last year, we lacked the speed part, getting after the quarterback,” Hightower said. “This year, I think it’s what our defense is about, getting after the quarterback. Last year, losing that one or two seconds, or giving the quarterback that extra time, that made a big difference. If we can get there faster, that relieves pressure off the defensive backs.”

What Barron said he’d like the defense to be known for was more general.

“They don’t quit,” he said. “They finish. Always.”

Saban said Hightower, who suffered from a knee injury in 2009, had a fantastic off-season.

“He’s got his explosive quickness back, his burst in pass-rush, playing with a little bit more speed, which is more like he played before his injury,” he said.

Hightower isn’t the only talented linebacker on the Alabama defense, of course. Other Tide linebackers include C.J. Mosley, Courtney Upshaw, Nico Johnson and Jerrell Harris.

“[The linebacker core] is one of the most athletic groups to come through Alabama in a long time,” Hightower said. “You won’t see a group of guys work harder in the country.”

Barron, who suffered a pectoral injury in the 2010 Auburn game, said he was about 90 percent healthy.

“The scar tissue’s still left,” he said. “It’s got to break up in order for me to be 100 percent.”