With A-Day behind us, we finally got our first look at an Alabama defense that is without Pete Golding as the defensive coordinator for the first time since the 2018 season. Schematically, there’s not a whole lot to talk about, they always go very vanilla during the spring game. However, I did notice a few things:
-They predominantly ran cover 2 in the secondary, rather than Saban’s usual preferred Cover 7. Some comments from Saban made this seem like it may have been intentional to see how the QBs responded.
-Steele blitzed a LOT for an A-Day game. Again, I have to wander if this was by design to see how the QBs handled the blitzing.
-The secondary as a whole seemed really aggressive. I like it.
After that, here are some of my observations from each of the position groups:
Jaheim Oatis, Tim Smith, and Justin Eboigbe look to be the main starters. Eboigbe flashed one really nice edge rush one time that looked like he was a 250-lb guy coming around the corner, rather than a nearly 300-lb DT, which is exciting for the senior coming of a career-threatening injury.
Tim Keenan, at nearly 340 pounds, chased uber-athlete QB Jalen Milroe to the sideline and tagged him down. I don’t know if it would have been a tackle in a real game, but it was mind blowingly impressive for the backup nose tackle.
I also thought Monkell Goodwine flashed quite a few times. He routinely beat blockers, even though he didn’t record any stats. Anquin Barnes was also really active.
Alabama didn’t really run the ball a whole lot in this game, so evaluating their run defense and stoutness as a group is a bit incomplete. Either way, I was a little disappointed we didn’t see more flash from Damon Payne or James Smith.
With both Dallas Turner and Chris Braswell hurt and out for the spring, Alabama got a long look at the backups. Keanu Koht and Quandarrius Robinson were the first team players, and the two racked up 2 sacks apiece on the first team OL. Koht in particular absolutely feasted on Elijah Pritchett at LT, and looks to have the explosiveness of the snap of a legit SEC edge rusher.
Behind them, Jeremiah Alexander was a force going against the second team RT, Mile McVay. Alexander is amazingly quick on his feet and showcased a number of both counter cross-ups and speed rushes. Freshman Qua Russaw also got a good bit of run on the edge and showcased pretty nice ability to hold up the edge in the run game.
Again, the lead guy, Deontae Lawson, was out for the spring. In his stead, Georgia transfer Trezmen Marshall and Jihaad Campbell got the first team reps. I thought Campbell looked extremely explosive at times throughout the game. Marshall stood up some blockers in the run game pretty well a few times, but he also bit HARD on the read option keeper that Jalen Milroe got a 35-yard score on.
Shawn Murphy also played with the first team, and I never noticed anything particularly good or bad from him.
On the second team, JUCO transfer Jordan Jefferson looked like he was playing a different speed than everyone else. Whether in coverage or shooting gaps up the middle, he’s FAST. Also a high-energy celebrator after making good plays, which is always fun. And beside him, Kendrick Blackshire had a very sold showing with 8 tackles and a sack.
The battle between Campbell, Marshall, and Murphy for the spot beside Lawson is going to be fascinating to watch.
Kool-Aid McKinstry, going into his junior season, just might be the best corner in the country. Nobody could get any separation from him, he got his hands on the few balls that came his way, and he made a couple of really impressive tackles on the perimeter to prevent positive yards. Opposite him, Terrion Arnold continues to show rapid improvement as his experience at the position grows to catch up with his athletic ability. He also totally shut down his sideline all game long. As a pair, the two were just plain awesome.
On the second team, freshman Dezz Ricks had a whole bunch of nice plays as well, leading the team in pass breakups. He’s got a knack for getting in the way. Antonio Kite also had nice breakup on a deep pass. Jahlil Hurley got toasted once, but he did manage to catch up and trip Jermaine Burton up just before he scored.
Malachi Moore got the start at Star and was all over the place as a blitzer and tackler. He picked up three sacks coming off the edge. He did get outrun by Emmanuel Henderson on a deep touchdown, but was otherwise an active, veteran presence. Nick Saban mentioned after the game that Moore had been playing safety all spring so that Earl Little could be at star, but the recent transfer portal departures had killed their depth, so Moore was playing Star today to make the teams even.
Speaking of Earl Little, his diving interception was probably the highlight play of the game. With Kobe Prentice running a deep crossing route, Little turned on the jets and udercut him from a trailing position and then just laid out horizontally to pick off what looked like a sure touchdown. It was a crazy display of both anticipation and athleticism.
The starting duo was Kristian Story and freshman Caleb Downs. Downs just might already be the best player on this defense outside of McKinstry. Every time he tackled someone, they dropped to the turf on the spot. And his interception on the hail mary was a confident grab of a pure, natural athlete. Plus he was already back there returning punts, indicating he’s got an early vote of confidence from Saban.
Story had a free interception on a wounded duck from Milroe and very nearly returned it for a TD, but otherwise had a quiet day.
On the second team, Jake Pope really showed out. The sophomore was constantly involved in nearly every play, displaying both speed and aggression in his pass coverage and run support. He also very nearly removed Burton’s soul from his body on a deep pass. He definitely forced the drop with the hit, though it would borderline get called a targeting in a real game.
Freshman Brayson Hubbard also looked like a natural at the position despite being a high school QB. He made a couple of really nice tackles in the run game, including bring down a guy with one arm.
Post A-Day predicted 2-deep depth chart
Don’t tell Saban, but here’s by best guess at the Tide’s 2-deep come fall
DE: Tim Smith, Damon Payne
DT: Jaheim Oatis, Tim Keenan
DE: Justin Eboigbe, Monkell Goodwine
JACK: Chris Braswell, Jeremiah Alexander
MIKE: Deontae Lawson, Trezmen Marshall
Will: Jihaad Campbell, Justin Jefferson
SAM: Dallas Turner, Keanu Koht
CB: Kool-Aid McKinstry, Dezz Ricks
CB: Terrion Arnold, Antonio Kite
Star: Earl Little Jr., Jahlil Hurley??
S: Malachi Moore, Kristian Story
S: Caleb Downs, Jake Pope
The depth at corner and star is terrifying. There’s just nobody left. Freshman Tony Mitchell getting himself arrested this spring definitely hurt. I think that Earl Little HAS to be on the field, so Moore will move to safety. But Kristian Story will be a semi-starter as the 6th DB.
Potential Roster moves
There’s a deep glut of players on the defensive line. 15 total players for 3 starting spots, and really only 2 spots over half the time when the Tide is in a 2-4-5 instead the 3-3-5 nickel base. Guys like Jah-Marien Latham and Jamil Burroughs are 4th year juniors that have yet to really break into getting playing time, and I would watch for them, plus a younger player or two, to be transfer portal candidates.
Again, the secondary is perilously thin. The starting group is very good, but there's just not enough bodies at corner. I wouldn't be surprised if there's a late JUCO addition here.
Overall, there's a lot positive to take away here. The secondary could be elite, the linebackers looked fast, and the DL has depth.