Kirby Smart is gone, but Jeremy Pruitt is a proven commodity
There’s a new defensive captain at Alabama, which hasn’t experienced that in a very long time.
What impact, if any, will Jeremy Pruitt’s hire have on the program?
Such a question is impossible to answer outright at this point in time. Still, it’s worth looking into to gain a stronger understanding of potential subtle differences.
First, Pruitt’s hire is significant for recruiting purposes. Ironically, Pruitt helped Alabama secure Derrick Henry after the five-star recruit initially committed to Georgia. Then last season, Pruitt was tasked with planning how to stop Henry when the Tide visited Athens, where Pruitt led the Georgia defense.
Pruitt also played a hand in Alabama landing C.J. Mosley and Reggie Ragland. He’s already helped Alabama secure five-star recruits Ben Davis and Lyndell Wilson this recruiting season.
None of this is to take away from Kirby Smart. Smart is considered an outstanding recruiter, but Pruitt seems to have a knack for relating to high school players, perhaps because of his previous coaching experience at the high school level.
After eight years of working under and learning from Saban at Alabama (11 years overall), Smart was offered a dream job to become head coach at his alma mater, Georgia.
In fact, one of the few times fans have seen Saban become emotional occurred when the rumors swirled around Smart taking the Georgia position just prior to the SEC Championship Game between Alabama and Florida.
“He’s as good an assistant coach and as loyal an assistant coach as I’ve ever had on my staff,” Saban said of Smart.
While Alabama will certainly miss Smart’s coaching ability and energy, the latter of which we know he’s already brought to Georgia, Pruitt is a fiery character in his own right.
During his introductory press conference, the Rainsville, Ala. native cited roots in the state, previous playing and coaching experience at Alabama and the success of Saban as reasons to return to the program as defensive coordinator.
Meanwhile, Saban called the hire of Pruitt a “no-brainer.”
Pruitt comes to Alabama after serving two seasons as Georgia’s defensive coordinator, as well as spending the 2013 national championship season at Florida State. From 2010-12, Pruitt served as Alabama’s secondary coach.
Reports indicated personality conflicts last season between the passionate Pruitt and the laid back approach of former Georgia head coach Mark Richt. Certainly, Pruitt should be more of a personality fit with Saban’s staff at Alabama.
Pruitt took over a talented defense at Florida State but still managed to elevate the play on that side of the ball. FSU ranked first among FBS teams in rushing touchdowns allowed and passing yards allowed and first among major conference teams in turnover margin at +17.
Also, FSU finished first overall by allowing just 12.1 points per game, slightly better than fourth-place Alabama’s figure of 13.9 points allowed per game.
While Pruitt’s work at FSU was impressive, he completely rebuilt the defense at Georgia.
The year before Pruitt arrived, Georgia ranked 59th in passing yards allowed per game. In his first year, that ranking catapulted to fifth in passing yards allowed per game (170.4). Also, Georgia went from tied for 79th in points allowed per game (29.0) to 16th (20.7).
The team continued to see improvement last season as the defense improved from fifth in passing yards allowed per game to first (156.5) and moving from 16th in points allowed per game to eighth (16.9).
Because of Saban’s influence, on-field changes probably won’t be anything drastic. The team will continue to run a 3-4 base package, although Smart is on record saying Alabama lined up with a four-man front 60 to 70 percent of the time.
When looking at the numbers, it would be difficult for Pruitt to improve upon what Alabama has done on defense in recent years. He certainly played a role while serving as secondary coach from 2010-12. The team ranked sixth in pass efficiency defense in 2010, first in 2011 and seventh in 2012.
Meanwhile, the run defense and overall defense have produced historic results. Last season, Alabama led the nation in rushing yards allowed, an average of just 75.7 yards per game. The 2011 Alabama defense produced an even lower number, allowing a miniscule 8.2 points per game and just 72.2 rushing yards per game.
It will be difficult for Pruitt to improve upon those numbers. However, improving the secondary and Alabama’s passing defense seems easily within the realm of possibility, especially after looking at Pruitt’s track record.
If that’s any indication, Alabama will probably see more of the tall, physical corners Pruitt favors, Dre Kirkpatrick and Dee Milliner being two past examples.
The bottom line: The odds of Alabama being strong on defense under the direction of its first new defensive coordinator since 2008 are very high.
And the Tide is betting on that to maintain its standing atop the SEC and the country.