Like its offensive counterpart, the defense for Alabama Football is aiming to get tougher and more physical in 2023. In moments over the past handful of seasons, opponents have been able to control the line of scrimmage and run the ball against Alabama.
Obvious examples include at Ole Miss in 2020 (268 rushing yards allowed on 4.7 yards per carry), at Florida in 2021 (245 yards on 5.7 YPC) and, most recently, vs Auburn in 2022 (318 yards on 7.4 YPC).
Even outside of surrendering absurd amounts of yardage on the ground, the defense generally hasn’t been as frenzied or aggressive as vintage Nick Saban-coached defenses have been. Saban wants this 2023 Bama defense to revert to that old-fashioned mentality on the defensive side of the ball, and certain players can help facilitate this shift in mindset.
Redshirt senior defensive end Justin Eboigbe has already appeared in 42 career games for Alabama Football. Eboigbe played very well last season before a neck injury ended his season prematurely.
He gets another shot as his senior year in 2023, and is expected to be the vocal leader of a stacked defensive line that includes fellow senior Tim Smith and sophomore Jaheim Oatis among others.
Junior linebacker Kendrick Blackshire is one of the more physical members of Bama’s crowded inside linebacker room. At nearly 240 pounds, he has been a physical specimen since his high school days. This could be the season that his work in the weight room translates to success on the field.
Blackshire has played well, primarily on special teams, through his first two seasons. He will continue that role in 2023, and perhaps carve out a spot on the Alabama defense as well.
Senior outside linebacker QuanDarrius Robinson has waited his turn to contribute for Alabama Football on the edge. Like Blackshire, Robinson has been largely a special teams contributor during his time in Tuscaloosa.
He notoriously cost Bama last season against Tennessee when he attempted to pick up (and ultimately muffed) a wobbly Vols punt. The error resulted in a special teams turnover in a game that the Crimson Tide ultimately lost.
QuanDarrius Robinson has an enormous opportunity to re-write that narrative this season. In his natural position on the edge, Robinson has been buried on the depth chart behind standouts such as Christopher Allen, Will Anderson Jr., Dallas Turner, Drew Sanders, and Chris Braswell in past years. He has stayed the course and improved every year, and it appears that he is expected to be in the rotation this season.
Robinson impressed throughout the spring and was extremely impactful on A-Day, recording a pair of sacks. It is uncertain exactly how much he will factor into Bama’s highly competitive edge rusher room, but Robinson brings a persistent and gritty mentality that will breathe life into the entire group.
Redshirt freshman safety Jake Pope likely won’t start this season, but he also played well this spring. Pope brings a distinct toughness to the Alabama Football secondary, and could be a special teams ace in 2023. Jake Pope led all players with 10 tackles on A-Day, and was one of the game’s hardest hitters.
All of these “blue collar” players on the Alabama defense bring their own unique value. For the Bama defense to return to a championship mentality will require a full scale effort.