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Breaking Down Alabama’s Defense & Its Top NFL Draft Prospects

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NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Ranking

  • Tied for #1 in Total Defense allowing an average of 261.8 yards per game
  • #1 in Points Allowed per game, allowing 13.7 points per game.
  • #3 in Sacks per Game with 3.6 sacks per game (54 total)
  • #5 in Turnovers Gained with 29 turnovers in 15 games
  • #8 in 3rd Down Completion Percentage allowing 30.7% of third down conversions to be successful

Draft Eligible Defensive Players

  • Jonathan Allen
  • Ryan Anderson
  • Dakota Ball
  • Reuben Foster
  • Marlon Humphrey
  • Eddie Jackson
  • Dalvin Tomlinson
  • Tim Williams

Base Defense

Their base defense is a 3-4 look, but oftentimes they are in a 3-3-5 look. They’ve also played out of a 4-2-5 look with 4 down lineman.

Here they are in in the 3-4 base defense. Not in the screenshot is the free safety on the defensive right about 15 yards away from the line of scrimmage.

Here they are in their 3-3-5 look (one of a few looks) with Fitzpatrick (#29) being the extra defensive back who’s subbed in.

Here they are in the 4-2-5 look, with Fitzpatrick (#29) being the extra defensive back who’s subbed in.

Blitz Concepts

Surprisingly, Alabama didn’t blitz as often as I expected them to. It’s most likely because they can generate so much pressure from their front four players that they don’t need to bring blitzes often. They almost never blitz two linebackers, which means that when they blitz, they only bring one linebacker (or a safety in some cases).

WILL Weak-side A-Gap Blitz

Let’s break down the responsibilities:

Weak-side edge defender (Tim Williams): Attacks the weak-side C-gap and plays contain.

Weak-side 3 tech (Dalvin Tomlinson): Attacks the weak-side B-gap, allowing the weak-side A-gap to be open.

Strong-side 1 tech (Da’Ron Payne): Attacks the strong-side B-Gap, so that the center steps to his left (to follow Payne) allowing the weak-side A-Gap to be completely open.

Strong-side edge defender (Jon Allen): Attack the left tackle head on.

WILL linebacker (Reuben Foster): Blitzes the weak-side A-Gap and starts the blitz as the ball is snapped.

MIKE linebacker (Shaun Hamilton): Reads the backfield, with an emphasis on the tailback.

As the play starts, we see that Foster is already inside the A-Gap and the quarterback hasn’t even handed off the ball yet. Foster shows great burst and acceleration on this play. The design works perfectly as the fullback is lead blocking to the strong-side, which means he is not in position to block Foster on the weak-side.

Foster just misses the running back but disrupts the flow of the play. We see that Hamilton is in position to make a play as he has his eyes on the ball carrier and there is no blocker in his path.

Hamilton fills the hole quickly and we see Dalvin Tomlinson and Da’Ron Payne close in on the ball carrier, even though they’re engaged in blocks.

Hamilton makes the tackle and ball carrier is only able to pick up a yard.

SAM Strong-side B-Gap Blitz

Firstly, Alabama only has 5 players in the box as they were forced to bring Foster outside the box to cover the slot receiver on the defensive right side.

Let’s break down the responsibilities:

Both edge defenders (Anderson on the strong-side and Williams on the weak-side): Attack the C-Gap, play the edge/contain and try and beat your offensive tackles to the corner.

Weak-side 3 tech (Jon Allen): Attacks the left guard head on.

Strong-side 1 tech (Dalvin Tomlinson): Attacks the strong-side A-Gap, which opens up the strong-side B-Gap. His goal is to get the right guard to step his way, thus allowing the MIKE (Evans) to get a free lane to rush the quarterback.

MIKE linebacker (Rashaan Evans): Blitzes the strong-side B-Gap and starts his run just before the ball is snapped.

We see that Ryan Anderson (#22) has a good first step and is off the line quickly. Evans is attacking the strong-side B-Gap, but the right guard has him in his sights and is ready to engage him. This is one of the differences between Foster and Evans, as Foster is able to hide his blitz better than Evans can.

Anderson plays the edge well and when Watson steps up in the pocket, Anderson is there to pressure him. The play ended in an incomplete pass.

MIKE Strong-side C-Gap Blitz

Let’s break down the responsibilities:

Weak-side edge defender (Ryan Anderson): Attack the weak-side C-Gap, play the edge and play contain.

Strong-side edge defender/5-tech (Da’Shawn Hand): Rushes inside and attacks the left guard.

Strong-side 1-tech (Da’Ron Payne): Rushes forward and attacks the strong-side A-Gap.

Weak-side 2-tech (Dalvin Tomlinson): Like Payne, Tomlinson is to rush the strong-side A-Gap, so he stunts, but he doesn’t do it well.

WILL Linebacker (Reuben Foster): His responsibility is the lone running back in the backfield. When the running back motions to the weak-side, Foster follows him.

MIKE Linebacker (Rashaan Evans): Motions from the middle linebacker spot to the edge on the strong-side and attacks the strong-side C Gap.

The quarterback gets the ball out quickly, which is the right play versus a blitz, but even with the quick throw, we can see two Alabama defenders (Payne and Hand) who are able to break through the line and get into the backfield.

Tony Brown (#2) is able to break off the receiver and make the tackle. The play results in an 8 yard loss.

Player Spotlights

Reuben Foster

Strengths

  • He’s a thumper; an explosive hitter who leaves his mark.
  • He is a sideline-to-sideline type player who chooses his tackle angles very well.
  • He is very effective when coming downhill on blitzes or when attacking the backfield.
  • Has the ability to cover receivers in the slot and can hang with them on short to intermediate routes.
  • Eyes are in the right place and he’s quick to recognize changes.

Weaknesses

  • He needs to be better at shredding off blocks.
  • Can be baited on play action and rollouts; has been caught with his hand in the cookie jar a few times.
  • He doesn’t always take the right angle when pursuing ball carriers; can run aimlessly at times.

Round Projection: Top 10 Overall Pick

Jonathan Allen

Strengths

  • He possesses the ability to play as a defensive end or as a 3 technique defensive tackle.
  • He is explosive and quick off the snap.
  • He shows great hand placement and is able to rip through opponents easily with a variety of moves (swim, rip, etc).
  • Great motor as he’s always moving his feet.
  • He recognizes plays quickly and reads the backfield very well.

Weaknesses

  • He has mild arthritis in both shoulders, but the symptoms should only seriously affect him in 15-20 years, according to doctors.
  • He has been surrounded by very talented players and is sometimes aided by the players around him (given a lot of one-on-ones, easy pass rushing lanes, etc).
  • Somewhat of a tweener; too slow and too stiff to play as an edge defender and probably needs to bulk up a bit if he intends to play inside.

Round Projection: Top 10 Overall Pick

Dalvin Tomlinson

Strengths

  • Powerful athlete with very good size.
  • He is very effective as a nose tackle/1-tech as he can eat up two gaps.
  • He is a very good run stopper as he recognizes the run well and follows the ball carrier.
  • He has violent hands and knows how to shred through opponents, especially versus the run.
  • Whistle to whistle type of player; great motor.

Weaknesses

  • He isn’t quick or explosive off the line.
  • He isn’t effective on stunts or on moves that require athleticism.
  • Relies on stunts for his pass rushing success.
  • Two torn ACL’s in his athletic career (high school and college).

Round Projection: 2nd Round

Tim Williams

Strengths

  • He is a quick-twitch athlete who is very fast off the line.
  • He is a skilled pass rusher, with the bend and explosion to be a nightmare against most offensive tackles. He can also do damage with his hands.
  • He has shown the ability to beat the offensive tackle to the corner, or to rip and win inside.
  • He can produce on stunts and twists.

Weaknesses

  • He has a few off-the-field issues, including failed drug tests and has been arrested on a drug charge.
  • He is slow to recognize plays out of the backfield and is often caught out of position.
  • I question whether his play strength is good enough for the NFL.
  • He does not set the edge well and is not good against the run.

Round Projection: 2nd-3rd Round

Ryan Anderson

Strengths

  • He plays the edge well and is very good against the run.
  • Great motor; he never stops moving his feet.
  • Smart player who recognizes plays very quickly.
  • He takes good angles when chasing the ball carrier and will almost never be beaten to his outside.
  • He’s physical with his hands.

Weaknesses

  • He isn’t a great athlete and his agility is average at best.
  • He is stiff as an edge defender; he doesn’t bend around the corner.
  • He doesn’t possess good coverage skills as he has stiff hips and isn’t good in open space.
  • He has short arms, so he’s at a disadvantage against long offensive tackles.

Round Projection: 2nd-3rd Round

Marlon Humphrey

Strengths

  • He possesses a good frame and is very athletic/fast.
  • His athleticism allows him to make up for mistakes in coverage.
  • Physical player who can deliver some hard hits.
  • He can shred off blocks very well.
  • Very competitive player who plays through the whistle.

Weaknesses

  • He has a tendency of being overly physical, especially in press coverage. He can be grabby, which leads to penalties.
  • Raw in coverage; fails to spot the ball in the air, footwork is somewhat sloppy and isn’t great in zone coverage (recognition skills aren’t very good).
  • He is susceptible to double moves on routes.

Round Projection: 2nd Round