Alabama typically has one of the best defenses in the country. But this season, the Crimson Tide underwent some growing pains on that side of the ball.

Part of that was due to the fact that the Tide lost two middle linebackers — Mack Wilson (graduation) and Dylan Moses (injury) — and replaced them with a pair of true freshmen, Shane Lee and Christian Harris. So both of those players had to quickly adjust to the college game.

For Pete Golding, his first season as Alabama’s defensive coordinator wasn’t as challenging as it may have have appeared from outside of the program, which he discussed during his Sunday press conference ahead of the Citrus Bowl.

“Obviously, you’re at Alabama and you’re coaching some of the best players in the country, with some of the best staff in the country, for the best coach in the country. So I think it’s not as bad as people think it is,” Golding told the media. “Obviously, those two freshmen that came in are really good players. I think the struggle, obviously, for any young player in any system coming into college football as a freshman is adjusting to the speed of the game. …

“I think they got better throughout the year. They had their growing pains, I had my growing pains, it wasn’t always perfect by any means. But it was a situation that we were put in. But I’m extremely proud of how they handled themselves and the preparation they put forward.”

However, Golding also acknowledged that it was tough to have both Lee and Harris starting in the middle of the Crimson Tide’s system and how it was different from having true freshmen start in other situations.

“I think it was a unique deal this year that you lost two guys at the same position, to where you have two 18‑year‑olds that have never been in the system side by side,” Golding said. “And I think a lot of times they’re looking for confirmation, and they’re looking for confirmation and the guy beside them that doesn’t really know either. And I think that’s been the big difference.

“In the past, it’s not like freshmen haven’t played at the University of Alabama or freshmen don’t play at every other school in the country. That happens, it’s going to happen.”

Alabama is set to conclude its season when it kicks off against Michigan in the Citrus Bowl on Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET on ABC.