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Jumbo Package: Saban — Tide’s pass rush, consistency must improve

It’s not exactly the news you want to hear in mid-August.

NCAA Football: Western Kentucky at Alabama
Looking forward to this guy...a lot.
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

The editors have an ongoing discussion as to whether 2017 will be the best secondary Alabama has had under Nick Saban. I’ve voted no for a variety of reasons (questions about Trevon Diggs on the outside, Tony Brown’s consistency, general anti-Gumping and curmudgeonry in the face of God and reason, etc.) But, the biggest concern I have for the secondary is one related to Nick Saban’s biggest concern at this moment: The pass rush.

Simply put, there are real questions about how smart the front seven is in terms of rushing the passer. The head man is not particularly pleased. Despite the ability and developing depth, Alabama’s front and outside linebackers are going for sacks and kill shots rather than playing within the system:

“It’s not where it needs to be,” Saban said following Wednesday’s practice. “Guys worry too much about getting sacks and not enough about affecting the quarterback. I’ve talked about this before, but there are about eight or nine things that affect the outcome of the game. Sacks don’t really do that. It does affect drives. But it does not affect the outcome of a game.

There is more at the link above, but I cannot emphasize enough how much of a negative impact an anemic rush has on the secondary. Alabama had 31 sacks in 2014; in 2013 it had just 22. Quarterback pressures in those years were the lowest since 2007. It’s no coincidence that those two seasons saw Alabama’s statistically poorest pass defenses.

These are related issues, and if the front seven players aren’t affecting the quarterback in some fashion, then this secondary will struggle -- no matter how awesome they are as individual players or how high their SPARQ scores.

More on the pass rush here, as well.

It wasn’t just the pass rush that Saban found fault with yesterday either. In a statement directed more to his team than to the media, he noted improvement in some areas, but still questioned the Tide’s consistency in toughness, effort, and execution:

“When I see the effort, which I haven't seen on a consistent basis,” Saban said. “The toughness, mental and physical toughness, which I see in spots but not all the time, and the ability for people to focus and do their jobs regardless of the circumstance.

“We're going to play games in weather like today. I think we'll play three or four. How many people were at Ole Miss last year? [It was] 100 degrees and we played 100 plays. Well, you’d better be a full-grown ma if you're going to do that. Right here in your head, to be able to sustain and play and finish.

“Are we there yet? Probably not. Are we making progress? I think so. But we have to continue to work."

You can look at this one as a negative, but, like I said, I really do think this was more for his team than a general statement that the 2017 roster is filled with wilting tulips. As we’re nearing the part of Fall Camp where Saban is beginning to assemble a roster, much more specific criticism and areas for improvement are bound to arise.

Besides, I think we’re all happier with a perfectionist Nick Saban than the alternative.

One person not singled out for criticism was ubermensch Minkah Fitzpatrick. He joins Derrick Henry, Barrett Jones, and Rolando McClain as the players Saban uncritically and effusively praises:

“Minkah does it as well as anybody I’ve ever coached, in terms of how he works every day, how he finishes plays, his conditioning level. Just phenomenal, I mean phenomenal,” Saban said after Wednesday afternoon’s practice. “Pays attention to detail, it’s important to him. Makes sure he knows what to do.

“Look, a lot of players that are good players, I’ve heard them say, ‘I’m saving it for the game,’ aight. Everyone of those players in all those teams that I’ve been on, players say that, ain’t none of them been worth a shit, aight. So, he doesn’t do that.

It’s hard to fault that appraisal either. More glowing quotes are here.

Wanna’ watch the quarterbacks throw sexy spirals? Of course you do.

Wanna’ watch clips of the entire media viewing session, during the Tide’s second evening practice? Ditto.

Here are clips of the pass-rush drill. “Intense and sometimes humorous” really was the best way to describe it.

Another note of discussion off-board is the progression of Jedrick Wills, the freshman tackle. Since he has arrived on campus, he has had a light’s out fall camp: So much that he is now pressing Matt Womack for the start at right tackle. Brent thinks Wills the is the most athletic offensive Alabama has ever signed. Josh thinks Wills may earn the start. I still think Womack gets the nod, but he’ll be on a quick hook. CB thinks that whatever comes from the competition, it is only a good thing. No matter what combination of us wind up being correct, this is the best I’ve felt about the offensive line in years, both in terms of quality and depth.

In that link above Saban also speaks on Brian Robinson’s progression (it looks like a RS year for him, though no one has said so). And Saban also mentions that the tight ends will be used more systemically this season. Very encouraging, that last bit.

Dylan Moses got a new jersey number yesterday, moving to No. 8: this suggests that he and Trevon Diggs (No. 7) will be on the field at the same time.

Finally, some notes on the secondary-- an ever-evolving position:

Minkah Fitzpatrick was lined up at the Star position, where he played at the beginning of last season before moving to safety after Eddie Jackson suffered a season-ending injury. Hootie Jones and Ronnie Harrison were the safeties in this nickel look.

Saban’s presser indicated that he “no idea” what the secondary would look like just yet. I think that’s probably overselling and a bit of subterfuge, but it is without question in recent history.

Bill Connelly wraps up his preseason coverage today with the No. 1 team in the nation and, more importantly, the number one team based on advanced stats. You should definitely go read it: I was particularly drawn to this paragraph for the truthiness:

From a quality standpoint, Alabama has been homogenous during this decade, but each team has had its own unique aspects, and this one might be more interesting than most. For one thing, the Tide boast the nation’s most talented and, perhaps, diverse running back corps, and they are now led by a coordinator who was part of the NFL’s best passing game. For another, while the defensive front seven has a lot of talent to replace, the secondary might be Saban’s best.

This really may be the most interesting team of the Saban dynasty, despite a few #BamaProblems

That’s it for today. We’re kind of taking it easy this week, as you’ve noticed. Next week begins, for us, an exceptionally long nine-month stretch that only wraps up in June after baseball/softball season.

But, next week we’ll announce our season-long pick ‘em contest with a HUGE winner’s prize, some one-off features, the preseason blogpoll, the rest of our unit previews, and we’ll begin gearing up for the 2017 season in earnest.

Go forth to evil.