For Alabama football fans, the injury to Trevon Diggs would appear to be possibly catastrophic for an already thin secondary; however, the pressure does not fall on the replacement to Diggs, but rather the defensive line.
Alabama football fans may remember last season when Minkah Fitzpatrick tweaked his hamstring against LSU. Panic set in as fans began to imagine a reality where their leader and star player of the defensive secondary would not be available for the rest of the season.
Although he did not miss time as Trevon Diggs will, he was still extremely limited. Did Alabama change their secondary coverages to help Minkah as a result to his injury? No, instead Bama increased the focus of the defensive line to put pressure on the QB.
With Trevon Diggs out someone will have to replace him. Junior College transfer Savion Smith will most likely return to the role of starting corner opposite of Patrick Surtain II in 3-4 packages. Expect to see Shyheim Carter once again in Nickel Packages with the rotation of Josh Jobe/Jared Mayden/Keaton Anderson in Dime packages.
With that being said, I can guarantee that Coach Nick Saban’s first priority to help offset the loss of Diggs has nothing to do with his replacement. Why? Because the secondary is only as good as their defensive line.
Coach Saban’s success throughout his history with Alabama football on defense has relied on one central principle. Pressure the quarterback without blitzing. When you look at the losses that Alabama football has sustained with Coach Saban under the helm, they revolve around terrific opposing team’s quarterback play. However, that was achieved through no pressure from Alabama’s defensive line.
Front four pressure is essential
Last season Alabama only achieved one sack/four QB hurries versus Auburn’s Jared Stidham. Against Clemson’s Deshaun Watson in the Natty, Alabama only sacked him twice in the second half with no QB hurries. Without pressure from the front four, the opposing team’s quarterback will find success as the aforementioned quarterbacks did.
What the pressure from the front four allows Alabama to accomplish is two-fold. First, it prevents Alabama from blitzing. Blitzing causes those who would otherwise be committed to pass coverage to abandon coverage to pressure the quarterback. Thus, resulting in more field for the rest of the secondary to be responsible for. Putting more pressure on each corner especially whoever replaces Diggs.
The second outcome of front four pressure is it hides any weakness that may be within the secondary. Let’s be honest the secondary could be Minkah Fitzpatrick, Mark Barron, Eddie Jackson, Dre Kirkpatrick, and Javier Arenas and if you gave a quarterback like Drew Lock all day to throw they would get torched. So, it goes without saying that the replacement for Trevon Diggs needs the opposing team’s quarterback to be under pressure to not expose their weaknesses.
So with Trevon Diggs out, the pressure doesn’t fall on his replacement. It falls upon the defensive line. Alabama needs Raekwon Davis to be the monster he was all postseason last year. They need Anfernee Jennings to return to the form seen last year vs Clemson before his knee injury.
If the stars within Alabama’s defensive line can rise up to the levels of a championship defensive line, the secondary will find success. If Alabama’s defensive line cannot maintain constant pressure on the quarterback and are forced to blitz, the secondary will be exposed.
Comment on how you believe Alabama’s defensive line will do against Drew Lock and company. Also provide a prediction of the score.