Alabama football defense needs to adjust more to match injuries


Alabama football usually adjusts better than almost any team in college football. However, the defense needs to adjust more to match the injuries they have.

It has been no secret in the Alabama media that the defense has had to deal with some major injuries. After forcing three sacks, two interceptions, and a fumble recovery against Florida State in the opening week, Alabama’s pass rush could only muster another two sacks in the next two games.

According to, Vanderbilt, Alabama’s opponents this Saturday, already have 10 sacks.

Matt Zenitz of reported head coach Nick Saban stating, “Losing four or five of our best pass rushers has had an effect on what we’ve been able to do pass rush-wise.” Zenitz also said that “Alabama’s three injured linebackers have all practiced each of the last two days and [Saban] said Wednesday that he’s ‘pleased with the progress that they’re making” heading into Saturday’s game against Vanderbilt.'”

Whether that means Anfernee Jennings (ankle), Dylan Moses (undisclosed injury), or Rashaan Evans (groin) will play or not still remains a mystery.

The more pressing issue is how defenders have responded to these injuries and how they have planned to compensate. Or lack thereof.

The defensive secondary earned three more interceptions in the past two games, but often through errors in judgement by opposing quarterbacks. Alabama did not impose upon the opponents to earn the interceptions. Meanwhile, they have allowed a combined 427 passing yards, 202 rushing yards, and three touchdowns through the air against Fresno State and Colorado State, two teams who were barely expected to score field goals against the Crimson Tide.

It is hard to expect that backups on the defensive line would be able to mount a sustained pass rush at the college level, so adjustments had and still need to be made.

Tell that to the Alabama football cornerbacks and safeties.

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Linebackers like Keith Holcombe have enough to worry about by filling in for the starters without having to continuously drop back in zone coverage to help protect the corners from getting burned in the mid-range to deep parts of the field. For the most part, the linebackers have been able to help the D-Line contain the runs, but that was against weaker offenses. Being stretched up and down the field eventually will catch up to them.

Both defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and Saban have been shown, in practice and during recent games, chewing on the defensive backs for getting beat down the field. All it has taken a number of times was a quick shimmy five yards into the route for opposing wide receivers to get open on man-to-man coverage. The safeties also have been late reading the quarterback and providing help over the top.

It is hard to tell why the defensive backs are having so much trouble, considering they are supposedly top players who know how to defend on their own. Are the safeties late because they are worried about needing to help with stopping the run? Or quick slants? Or dumps to the flats?

That anxiety is the opposite to what Saban preaches. They are to just do their jobs and trust in their teammates, even if they are backups. If help is required, the coaches will tell them. Better still, they should trust their athletic ability to chase down a rusher who actually does make it into the secondary, which has not happened very much.

Granted, that is being generous to the safeties; what’s the cornerbacks’ excuse? They should be on their defensive assignments like crap on velcro: almost impossible to shake off. Alabama’s corners have been shook off almost before they realize that the play has started.

Having the starters come back may put the pass rush back to normal, but that does not mean the defense will be as dominant as they were last year. Even the starters cannot get to the quarterback every time.

If the corners and safeties need to stay back more, so as not to get burned deep, the linebackers will have to cover much more area around the first-down marker. That idea hampers the outside linebackers blitzing, unless the other LBs shift to compensate for that particular side of the field.

Next: Wednesday's practice report & Nick Saban's press conference

All of this strategy can be taxing on the players, but it will be necessary if the starters continue to stay out with injury. When they come back, the defensive backs may just need to relax and concentrate on their positions, making rainbows appear again for them. Until then, Vanderbilt’s offense, a much tougher opponent than previous weeks, is waiting to steal the golden pot of success at the end of it, if mental and strategic adjustments are not made in time.