Alabama Football: Defense ahead of the Offense, that’s a good thing

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 28: Jonathan Allen
AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 28: Jonathan Allen /

Alabama football held a closed scrimmage Saturday. The most prevailing impression was the defense outplayed the offense and that should please Tide fans.

Alabama football doles out little information about fall camp scrimmages. The small number of allowed visitors are sworn to secrecy. Membership in certain booster clubs is at risk for loose-lipped members.

Stuff seeps out despite Saban’s maniacal and totally justified control. Comments are already surfacing that the defense held the upper hand in Saturday’s scrimmage. Saban even admitted it in his post-scrimmage comments, though his words were measured and spoke nothing of defensive dominance.

Since the hiring on Brian Daboll last February, the next Alabama football offense has garnered center attention. Rules changes and evolved systems have flipped past conventional wisdom that defense wins championships.

For fans, the pain of coming short of a repeat national championship is blamed more on offensive than defensive deficiencies. With six standout 2016 defensive players graduating to the NFL, offensive football was expected to be the 2017 bell cow.

Maybe so – Maybe not.

What does the SEC Network’s Marcus Spears think?

On Friday on the Paul Finebaum Show, Marcus Spears voiced concerns about the 2017 Alabama football defense.

"“ … I’m not talking about players being good, I’m talking about the amount of production that they lost. It’s a difference in having players upfront that can play and do good. It’s a difference when you have game changers, though. And they lost three.”"

Marcus knows football, particularly defensive football. When he talks, we listen. The Spears contention is the sack production loss with the exit of Ryan Anderson, Tim Williams and Jonathan Allen.

Spears makes a valid point. There are big shoes to fill and on top of that add Reuben and Dalvin Tomlinson and Marlon Humphrey. Spears is not convinced the 2017 squad has the personnel to make up for the lost ‘game-changers.’ Any review of 2016 stats validates the Spears concern. But those stats are no longer pertinent to a new mixture of gifted players.

How good can the 2017 defense become?

There is quiet optimism surrounding the Alabama football program. We are beginning to believe the 2017 defense can be good, maybe even better than last season.

Let’s look at some positives.

  • Depth may be a strength for the 2017 secondary. In our opinion, Trevon Diggs will become a very good corner in 2017. Until then Minkah can cover any weaknesses. The best recent news is that Levi Wallace, Jared Mayden and Deointe Thompson appear ready to make solid contributions. Add a healthy Anthony Averett, Tony Brown, Ronnie Harrison and Hootie Jones and the Tide may have the best secondary group in the nation.
  • Losing Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson may not be a problem if Christian Miller and Terrell Lewis meet current expectations. Add Anfernee Jennings and Rashaan Evans on the edge when needed, and the pass rush may not suffer. It could even be better.
  • Da’Ron Payne is one of the best football players in the nation. Da’Shawn Hand, Isaiah Buggs, Raekwon Davis, Josh Frazier, Johnny Dwight and Quinnen Williams add talent and depth. All indications are freshman and former 5-Star, LaBryan Ray will also contribute in 2017.

Don’t underestimate the talent of the 2017 defense

For the past few seasons, Alabama football had the luxury of being able to get to the QB with a four man rush. It may be able to do so again this season. Or it may be Jeremy Pruitt will have to call a few more blitzes. Either way, the 2017 defense has the needed size and it may be faster than the 2016 defense.

Nick Saban’s fall camp statements indicate a solid optimism about the 2017 defense. Some insiders claim Jeremy Pruitt believes the 2017 defense is his most talented ever. Better than 2016 and better than the national championship defense he coached at FSU.

Next: 30 Great Tide Players who were 3-Star Recruits

Maybe defense no longer wins championships. If so, an improved defense in 2017 is no guarantee of a championship. But if the 2017 offense is also improved – it will be a long season for the rest of college football.