Last season, under secondary coordinator Melvin Tucker, Alabama was in a zone scheme more than we've seen in years past. That is not a coincidence either.
In 2014, Alabama faced an unreal 495 pass attempts, yielding over 3000 yards through the air and 24 passing touchdowns surrendered (24th S&P passing defense.) In 2013, Alabama faced nearly 30 passes per game, and gave up 13 passing touchdowns; still, opponents were very efficient, as the Tide was just 32nd in S&P passing defense.
With several young players cracking the 2015 rotation, and with Alabama's inability to get its man-defense up to the levels the Crimson Tide is accustomed to, Tucker simplified the schemes, put an emphasis on creating turnovers, and went to much more of a zone look to protect against the deep shot that had been Alabama's bane the previous three seasons. Alabama finished 3rd in S&P pass efficiency defense last season; really only being torched in one game against the Heisman runner-up. Alabama surrendered 13 touchdowns in 14 games, before allowing four to Deshaun Watson, half of which occurred in a wild fourth quarter.
With Tucker's departure, Nick Saban brought in former Troy DB Derrick Ansley to compliment Jeremy Pruitt's more aggressive scheme. And, yes, Pruitt is considered somewhat more aggressive than Kirby Smart, blitzing well over 60% of the time during FSU's title run. Last season, a Georgia secondary that had been somewhat maligned in years past finished the nation with the No. 1 pass efficiency defense in the country, and Georgia had the No. 1 defense against explosive plays allowed. Both bode well for an improved Tide team that nevertheless finished 7th and 9th in those categories
Into this general framework, enters Derrick Ansley, a secondary turnaround specialist from his time at Kentucky and Huntingdon (Mont., Al.) In the five seasons Ansley was with the Hawks, the team went from 12 ints and 23 PBUS to 15 INTs and 44 PBUS, then 23 INTs and 56 PBUs -- and Huntingdon had both its first winning season and its first playoff appearance in that time.
After a stellar job with Huntingdon's defense, Ansley journeyed around a bit first as a GA at Alabama, followed by a brief stint with UCF, then a season with Derek Dooley's woeful 2012 Tennessee squad. At Tennessee, the Vols improved from 86th to 54th in interceptions forced. He then found a home at Kentucky in 2013, as cornerbacks coach. The defense was markedly more aggressive. By 2014, when Ansley was promoted to assistant DC/secondary coach, Kentucky's defense had forced the second most turnovers in the SEC (24,) with the secondary picking off 14 passes and forcing three fumbles.
Additionally, by Ansley's third season at Huntingdon he had been promoted to recruiting coordinator, so the Tide is getting an able person in the living room as well.
Simply put, the philosophy seems to be to contest the ball, every pass, every time. Obviously, that does not fit into the defensive philosophy that the Tide fielded last season, where the front four were usually enough to create pressure and force bad reads and throws. But, it Ansley's approach yield results, particularly in batting down balls and creating turnovers. Moreover, his bona fides as an excellent recruiter and aggressive defensive philosophy, fit with both Pruitt's scheme and with Saban's demands of all his coaching staff.