Reloading the monster: A look at Alabama's defense in 2016
There is a different type of recruiting for a head coach that’s necessary to sustain a dynasty. Recruiting high school kids gets all the publicity, but an equally important recruiting job needs to get done every winter with college juniors.
Convincing them to stay one more year instead of jumping to the NFL is huge job.
Alabama apparently won several of those battles in the immediate aftermath of the national championship game, as safety Eddie Jackson, defensive lineman Jonathan Allen and pass-rushing specialist Tim Williams all declared their intention to return to Tuscaloosa for the 2016 season. Alabama’s only early entry on the defensive side of the football came from A’Shawn Robinson.
Those three returners will help form the backbone of a nasty defensive unit next season. Consider:
• Defensive line: Williams and Allen were two of the main cogs in a Tide pass rush that suddenly became the best in college football in 2015, enabling a defense that blitzed very little. Junior defensive end Ryan Anderson also returns to aid that effort. Rising junior Da’Shawn Hand also emerged as a force at season’s end in the middle of the defensive line, and actually finished the season among the Tide leaders in tackles for loss.
• Linebacker: Returning linebacker Reuben Foster finished as Bama’s second-leading tackler behind Reggie Ragland, fulfilling the promise that whetted so many Tide fans’ appetites when he spurned Auburn for Tuscaloosa. The fact that he did so with a cast on his hand for most of the season makes it even better. Fellow Auburn High School alum Rashaan Evans figures to see more time in 2016 as an outside linebacker and pass rusher.
• Secondary: Jackson’s return means that a young Alabama secondary that started true freshmen at corner — Minkah Fitzpatrick and Marlon Humphrey, with Ronnie Harrison sprinkled in passing situations — suddenly is both experienced and deadly. Alabama’s defensive backfield does lose the services of cornerback Cyrus Jones and safety Geno Matias-Smith, but has plenty of talent waiting in the wings.
Alabama’s defense is also going to benefit from a great recruiting class, some of whom will see action right away. DTs Kendell Jones and Quinnen Williams already have committed and Saban and his staff have their sights sets of several others as we creep closer to National Signing Day on Feb. 3.
The Crimson Tide’s biggest recruit for 2016 is also its biggest unknown. That would be Jeremy Pruitt, who was hired to replace departed defensive coordinator — and Nick Saban mainstay — Kirby Smart.
According to some reports, Pruitt didn’t prove to be the easiest co-worker in stays at Florida State or Georgia. But the thinking is that his new boss has a better shot at taming whatever erratic tendencies he displayed at those last two stops. The system also won’t change, since Pruitt’s background in defense began with Saban during his days as secondary coach at Alabama.
What we can’t predict is what the offseason will bring in the way of off-field troubles like arrests, transfers, injuries and general complacency. But with plenty of pieces back and more on the way, things are looking up once again in Tuscaloosa.
Which surprises absolutely no one.