FanPost

2013 Alabama Defense: A "Brief" Primer

Stacy Revere

In the comments section of the ‘Five Burning Questions’ post I asked if there would be a post at some point discussing defensive personnel groupings. Instead Slice of Life suggested that I should make one, so here it is …

Under Nick Saban and Kirby Smart, Alabama essentially uses seven defensive formations. At times it may seem like more, but those differences are cosmetic, rather than fundamental. Two of the seven formations are goal-line and 7 DBs, both of which are relatively simple, and aren’t worth much further discussion. The other five are 3-4, 4-3, 2-4-5, 3-3-5, and dime/sub. I’m going to briefly discuss each one, and the different personnel likely to be utilized within them.

Alabama uses two base defenses: a 3-4 and a 4-3.

The 3-4 uses a nose tackle, two defensive ends, a middle linebacker, a strong side linebacker, a weak side linebacker, a jack linebacker, a corner that plays into the boundary, a corner that plays to the field, a free safety, and a strong safety. It’s a two-gap defense, where the nose tackle typically plays directly over the center. Most likely the starting personnel when Alabama goes with its 3-4 defense will be as follows:

DE: Jeoffrey Pagan

NT: Brandon Ivory

DE: Ed Stinson

MIKE: Trey DePriest

SAM: Adrian Hubbard

WILL: CJ Mosley

JACK: Xzavier Dickson/Denzel Devall

Boundary Corner: John Fulton

Field Corner: Deion Belue

FS: HaHa Clinton-Dix

SS: Vinnie Sunseri

Hubbard, Dickson, and Devall can play JACK and SAM, so some rotation there is to be expected. Alabama typically rotates two players at NT, so the sub would be Darren Lake. At DE there are usually three players that share both positions, and the sub would likely be Dalvin Tomlinson, at least initially. Reggie Ragland will probably spell DePriest and Mosley, although Reuben Foster could work himself into that role eventually. Ryan Anderson, Dillon Lee, and potentially Jonathan Allen are all candidates to help out at SAM and JACK. Geno Smith might see some time at boundary corner, likewise for Landon Collins at SS. Nick Perry could also work his way into some snaps at one of the two safety positions, most likely FS if HaHa ever needs a breather.

When they switch over to a 4-3 the personnel largely remains the same, but the concepts change. Either the SAM or the JACK (so Hubbard, Dickson, and possibly Devall) will get down in a three point stance and play the five technique, forcing one of the ends to the inside (or they could sub in Lake, and play both tackles). The 4-3 is traditionally a one-gap defense, but in the last few years some teams with a good NT that play some 4-3 go with a sort of hybrid two/one-gap defense, where half the line (the side that includes the NT) has two gap assignments while the other half is only given one gap. Chris Brown, in his book The Essential Smart Football, credits Bill Belichick (Saban’s former boss) as the man responsible for coming up with this scheme. When Alabama transitions into its 4-3 I’m not quite sure what sort of gap assignments the front seven is given … this would require some more extensive film viewing, preferably on All-22 (which isn’t available to us common folk). If anyone does know the answer to this question, please share.

On obvious passing downs, Saban and Smart’s favorite defense tends to a 2-4-5.

The 2-4-5 typically uses two defensive ends on the interior of the line (both playing the three technique), the strong side linebacker and the jack linebacker at the end positions (both playing the nine technique), two inside backers, a boundary corner, a field corner, a slot corner (or a STAR, per the Belichick/Saban terminology), a free safety, and a strong safety. This formation gets five defensive backs on the field to help defend the pass and a front capable of pressuring the QB without sending additional blitzers. Most likely the personnel when Alabama goes with its 2-4-5 will be as follows:

DE: Jeoffrey Pagan

DE: Ed Stinson/Dalvin Tomlinson

SAM: Adrian Hubbard

JACK: Xzavier Dickson/Denzel Devall

ILB: CJ Mosley

ILB: Trey DePriest

Boundary Corner: John Fulton

Field Corner: Deion Belue

Slot Corner (STAR): Geno Smith

FS: HaHa Clinton-Dix

SS: Vinnie Sunseri

If he progresses quickly, Jonathan Allen could see some time at the JACK in this formation. Same goes for Dee Liner, at DE. There’s some flexibility at the STAR, to be sure. For instance, in 2011, with a strong number three corner (Dee Milliner), this formation almost exclusively featured three corners. Last year, without the emergence of a third corner during most of the season, Saban/Smart resorted to using a safety at the STAR … often Vinnie Sunseri and sometimes Nick Perry. After the LSU game they decided to go away from this strategy, first installing John Fulton at boundary corner (moving Milliner to the inside), and then, after Fulton’s injury, moving Milliner back to the boundary and allowing Geno Smith to play the STAR, where he proved himself more than capable. For the most part I’d expect to see Smith play the position, but it also wouldn’t shock me to see Landon Collins get a few snaps at there. If he’s not going to start at safety, they would be wise to find a way to get someone of his talent on the field.

Probably the most intriguing formation, specifically because it’s the one with the most flexibility in terms of the personnel, is the 3-3-5.

In today’s college football, where spread offenses have never been more prevalent, and many of those same spread offenses are equally as likely to pass as they are to run, finding a defense that is proficient against both has become a must for defensive coaches across the country. This is made even more important due to the fact that many of these spread teams run the HUNH, preventing the opposing defense from substituting. The 3-3-5 isn’t all that new, but it’s something some coaches have turned to as a base defense against a team that plays this style of offense. It uses a nose tackle, two defensive ends, a middle linebacker, a weak side linebacker, a strong side linebacker, a boundary corner, a field corner, a STAR, a free safety, and a strong safety. Most likely the personnel when Alabama goes with its 3-3-5 will be as follows:

DE: Jeoffrey Pagan

NT: Brandon Ivory

DE: Ed Stinson/Xzavier Dickson

MIKE: Trey DePriest

WILL: CJ Mosley

SAM: Adrian Hubbard

Boundary Corner: John Fulton

Field Corner: Deion Belue

STAR: Geno Smith/Landon Collins/etc etc

FS: HaHa Clinton-Dix

SS: Vinnie Sunseri

As mentioned previously, there’s a lot of flexibility in this formation. Against an option team, Alabama is likely to get the slower Stinson off the field, and replace him with Dickson or Devall. They might also choose to take out Ivory, and replace him with a quicker DE. They can also choose to go with a four man front, simply by taking the SAM (Hubbard) and moving him down to the line.

The most interesting position is the STAR (hence the etc etc, to emphasize all the different possibilities). Ideally the STAR should be someone who’s strong at playing both the pass and run, typically a safety. As mentioned above, Alabama tried this last year with Sunseri, and it flopped. Absent another safety taking this position, the job likely belongs to Smith. But as Bammer and I discussed in the comments section of the ‘Five Burning Questions’ post, Landon Collins is an interesting possibility at the position. If Sunseri hangs onto the SS position, that frees up Collins to play something else, and he profiles as a guy strong in both pass coverage and run defense. It’s something worth keeping an eye on. Additionally, almost anyone in the secondary is a possibility at this spot, including (but certainly not limited to) Cyrus Jones, Bradley Slyve. Jarrick Williams, Nick Perry, etc. If one of the other corners were to play in this formation, it’s also possible that he could play the field or the boundary, forcing either Belue or Fulton inside.

Finally, another pass defense formation that they will play is one with six defensive backs, the dime/sub.

They’ll use this both at the end of halves when the opposing offense has a long field to travel, and against teams that use four and five wide receivers at a time. This formation will typically include either two safeties and four cornerbacks or three safeties and three cornerbacks. Traditionally this entails two high safeties, but there could also be three. Additionally this is where you’ll see the MONEY position, or the dime corner.

What they’ll do with the front five is anyone’s guess, because the possibilities really are endless. Think of Dont’a Hightower lining up at DE and sacking Jordan Jefferson during the BCSNCG. Almost any combination of linemen and backers that you could think of would work, but understand that Alabama will try to get as much speed and pass rushing ability on the field as possible. Thus you’re almost certain to see CJ Mosley, Adrian Hubbard, and Xzavier Dickson.

And that pretty much raps it up. I enjoyed writing it and I hope you guys found this interesting and informative. If anybody is interested I can try to piece one together for the offense either next weekend or the following weekend. Let me know.

Roll Tide.

Editor: Bumped to front page. Fantastic job, man.

FanPosts are just that; posts created by the fans. They are in no way indicative of the opinions of SBN and the authors of Roll Bama Roll.

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