Heading into the summer, the entire defense for Alabama Football needs to be in “prove it” mode. With new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele in command with elite talent at his disposal, the defense should hypothetically make the improvements it has failed to make over the past five seasons.
On paper, this defense is a top-5 unit nationally, but factions of the Alabama fan base are rightfully skeptical. For several years now, the Bama defense has performed at substandard levels when compared to its perceived talent level. Steele looks to re-establish the unit as a dominant force to be feared across college football, but this defense has to prove it.
Alabama Football Defensive Line: A-
The Alabama defensive line looks talented and deep coming out of spring. The group is headlined by seniors Justin Eboigbe and Tim Smith along with sophomore Jaheim Oatis. All three can be studs, and Oatis in particular has an All-American caliber ceiling. Can this group play at a level reminiscent of vintage Saban defensive lines?
The 2023 defensive line features quality depth in the form of redshirt juniors Jamil Burroughs and Jah-Marien Latham, as well as redshirt sophomores Damon Payne and Monkell Goodwine.
The shiny new toy on the defensive front is 5-star recruit James Smith. The no. 1 player in the state of Alabama in the class of 2023, Smith surpassed expectations in his first spring on campus. He could be talented enough to jump players several years older than him on the depth chart.
Alabama Football Linebackers: A-
The Alabama linebacker rooms are somewhat difficult to assess, considering that several primary contributors missed extended portions of the spring. Presumed starting edge rushers Dallas Turner and Chris Braswell, along with starting inside ‘backer Deontae Lawson, were all out for the spring game.
Still, we understand to a degree what these players bring to the table, and the spring provided a necessary look at the depth Coach Saban and company have accumulated on the defensive side of the ball.
On paper, both linebacker rooms are absolutely stacked. Inside, Lawson still figures to take a starting role, but competition is intense at the position. JUCO transfer Justin Jefferson and Georgia transfer Trezmen Marshall have both performed well, as has true sophomore Jihaad Campbell. Junior Kendrick Blackshire cannot be counted out either as he returns from injury.
On the edge, Turner and Braswell should form one of the nation’s premier pass rushing duos while also being solid against the run. Senior Quandarrius Robinson and redshirt sophomore Keanu Koht performed admirably on A-Day, and the Crimson Tide welcomes in two more 5-stars in Keon Keeley and Yhonzae Pierre this summer.
Alabama Football Secondary: B+
The Bama secondary is almost totally revamped after losing players in bunches to the NFL Draft and the NCAA transfer portal. Junior Kool-Aid McKinstry and redshirt sophomore Terrion Arnold will attempt to lock down the corner spots, and could be a shutdown tandem.
Senior safety Malachi Moore has lots of experience and should play a leadership role on the back end. True freshman safety Caleb Downs has generated as much buzz as anybody this offseason, and will likely be a major playmaker in the Bama secondary.
Other players to keep an eye on include senior safety Kristian Story, a pair of transfer portal additions in corner Trey Amos and safety Jaylen Key, and versatile redshirt freshman Earl Little Jr.
Alabama Football Special Teams: A
The Alabama special teams units are the team’s most proven commodity, returning virtually everybody of note from a successful 2022 season. Kicker Will Reichard has been one of the nation’s best specialists since 2020, and utilized his pandemic eligibility to return for one more season.
Punter James Burnip is solid as well, and returns for his third year as a starter. Kool-Aid McKinstry is a multi-faceted impact player for the Crimson Tide, and is one of college football’s best punt returners in addition to his duties as an All-American cornerback.
It will be interesting to see who Bama puts deep to return kickoffs. Running back Jahmyr Gibbs, a first round draft pick of the Detroit Lions, handled the responsibilities last season.