The 2012 Crimson Tide season was for all intent purposes an incredibly successful and satisfying season. Despite some fluke plays on desperation heaves by a certain Heisman winning quarterback, the defense played as close to perfect as one could hope. The Alabama defensive unit led the nation in total defense, scoring defense and rushing defense and ranked 7th in passing defense. There was nowhere to go but down, right?
The defensive units that followed that championship year were by no means failures but a few cracks in the foundation began to form. The Tide went from seventh against the pass to 11th in 2013 to 59th last season. Bad pass coverage can sometimes be compensated for if a team can force turnovers.
It's amazing to think the Crimson Tide made the College Football Playoff and finished #4 with a negative turnover ratio. Although the takeaways total was right on par with 2011 and 2013, many of the individuals who made those plays have moved on to the NFL. Also in recent seasons, Alabama fans have become accustom to seeing the Tide D converting the turnovers into points. However, the only defensive score in 2014 was a scoop-and-score by cornerback Cyrus Jones against Ole Miss which could've been called back on a face mask call.
The championship teams of 2011 and 2012 had Jeremy Pruitt as their Defensive Backs Coach. When he left for FSU, Nick Saban made a little boo-boo by hiring the fantastically unspectacular Greg Brown. After the parting of ways with Brown, Saban made a second mistake in moving moved Defensive Coordinator Kirby Smart over from linebackers to the secondary to placate Kevin Steele.
Steele has moved on and veteran NFL coach Mel Tucker has taken over the task over leading a young but talented secondary. For what it is worth as Defensive Coordinator for the Cleveland Browns in 2008, Tucker's defense was second in the NFL with 23 interceptions. Here's hoping that two wrongs can be corrected by a right.
The bottom line is that the Tide is lacking in the "Ball Hawks" department. These are the guys who go after balls and have that knack for creating the turnover. C.J. Mosley and Vinnie Sunseri had that talent but they are long gone. It is something this 2015 team needs to improve upon.
- Clearly, the most efficient returning ball hawk is cornerback Cyrus Jones. Since moving to the defensive side of the football in 2013, the rising senior has five interceptions and the aforementioned fumble recovery. His three picks last season led the team to go with two forced fumbles.
- Jones' counterpart at the other corner, Eddie Jackson, had one pick, one recovery and two forces in 2014. The season before he had one INT and one recovery.
- Reggie Ragland had a break out year in 2014 registering three fumble recoveries to go with one interception. It was declared a statewide holiday (excluding Lee County) when the linebacker announced he would not enter the 2015 NFL Draft.
- Fans know well that Mike linebacker Reuben Foster can hit like a freight train. Finally, it looks like he has learned how to do it without injuring himself. But another aspect missing from his game is getting that pigskin. He has yet to register a single turnover stat in his two season on campus.
- The Tide defensive line might be the nation's best and deepest. This unit including A'Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed, D.J. Pettway, Jonathan Allen, Da'Shawn Hand, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Joshua Frazier was fourth best in the FBS against the run. However, Robinson recorded the sole forced fumble of this dynamic group. They had no recoveries.
- Safeties. All of them. The Tide has had an amazing run of safeties (HaHa Clinton Dix, Landon Collins, Sunseri, Robert Lester, Mark Barron, etc. etc.) who were ball hungry. Of the current corps, only Geno Smith (one forced fumble) and Jabriel Washington (interception vs. Florida) had a takeaway stat from last season.
- Early enrollee safety Ronnie Harrison has turned some heads in spring with his fluidity on the field. He picked off a David Cornwell pass in the A-Day Game and returned it 31 yards.
- Cornerback Marlon Humphrey redshirted last season but looks ready to make some waves. He too intercepted a Cornwell pass in the spring game.
- Could senior safety Jabriel Washington finally be living up to his 4-star rating? In addition to the pick against the Gators, he took one away from Cooper Bateman on A-Day.
- Injury limited Sam linebacker Denzel Devall to eight games in 2014. If healthy, he should see some opportunities to create turnovers.
- Maurice Smith had a spring game pick-six against Jake Coker but will it translate to the regular season?
- Reserve linebacker Dillon Lee had an interception against Michigan in 2012. In 2013, he returned a blocked punt against Colorado State for a score and recovered a fumble on kickoff coverage against Georgia State. However, he has not been able to find his way into a starting role.