State of Play
How do you replace a legend? And, make no mistake, Will Anderson was just that — legendary from his first game to his last. When he hung them up, he was second in school history in both sacks and tackles for loss. The guy who’s ahead of him? Derrick Thomas. Three All-American bids, back-to-back Defensive Heismans, best Linebacker awards, best defender awards, even a Heisman nomination later, Will left a legacy behind that is frankly daunting to type, much less replace.
So, how do you replace that kind of legend?
Maybe with an All-American, a senior cagey pass rusher, the nation’s best recruits at the position, and a terrifying amount of depth.
Really, nothing more needs to be said there.
Jr. Dallas Turner: Dallas didn’t have quite the production that he did in 2021, but then again, he did snag 10.5 sacks as a true freshman, and earn All-American honors. He had 4.0 in his sophomore campaign, in a year where his skillset was taking no one by surprise, and playing behind a defensive line that got almost zero push to assist the rush. He’s back again, hungry, with a lot more help, a more aggressive scheme, and some NFL money to make.
Sr. Chris Braswell: Yes, we’re kind of cheating here by putting Braswell as a starter. But, in his tenure at the Capstone, he has seen his snaps increase every season. It culminated in earning a role as a situational starter last year in the Tide’s three-rusher personnel grouping. Long, slow, hard work has paid off too: Nick Saban has all-but stated that Braswell will be starting. Though, in typical fashion, he also said that being named starter isn’t the end of the competition — both to keep Braswell on his toes, as well as to motivate the guys behind him, particularly the vicious incoming freshmen. Braswell led all reserves in tackles, tackles for loss, and sacks — so he was productive in the snaps he did see.
Sr. Quandarrius Robinson: The senior has just never quite been able to get off the bench. Robinson has played a ton of special teams throughout his career, but his impact has been minimal beyond that.
RS Fr. Jeremiah Alexander: The native Alabamian is the one returning veteran that I’m most anxious to see. He’s practically unblockable, with a skill set reminiscent of Will, though on a significantly larger frame. That, my friends, is recipe for terror.
The last returning veteran is the forgotten man, RS So. Keanu Koht. That’s a shame too, since he entered Tuscaloosa as among the most highly regarded pass rushers in the nation. He’s a smaller guy, like incoming Freshman Yhonzae Pierre. And, like Pierre, he also relies on explosion to get to the edge. There will almost certainly be some packages that call for that speed this year.
The New Guys:
It’s hard not to be excited by these guys. Let’s start with the nation’s No. 1 defender, No. 1 edge, and a unanimous Top Three, 5-star Keon Keeley. Anything I add here will be coloring outside of the lines.
Take it away, Brent:
Keeley is so tall and athletic that he stands out above everyone and just utterly dominates the high school field. He mostly rushes the edge from a stand up position, but he definitely moves to a 3-point stance regularly to take on blockers more directly.
As a pass rusher, he offers pretty much everything you could ask for. First and foremost, he’s got insane closing speed and will turn a tiny opening into a devastating QB hit before you can blink. He’s absolutely excellent at bull rushing a blocker backwards, getting them off-balance, and then slipping around them to finish things off.
But at the same time, he’s just as comfortable going for a pure speed rush and just flat out beating an OT around the outside to the QB.
Then throw all of that in with a nice repertoire of counter-moves (spins and crossover side steps) and you have a guy that, well, racks up nearly 20 sacks in 12 games.
On top of that, his tackling is violent.
Keeley is not the only player that will rustle your Jimmy. We give you the smallish-but-devastating Yhonzae Pierre:
When it comes to first-step explosiveness and mind-numbing acceleration, Yhonzae Pierre is elite to the most elite level. When the ball is snapped, he looks like he’s playing on fast forward while the other 21 players on the field are at normal speed. That kind of jump from the start of the play makes him the ultimate backfield disrupter and purveyor of chaos on many, many plays.
For the most part, he relies on that initial quickness to get a step and then blow by an offensive tackle to the QB. However, he does show a decent understanding of when to attack his blocker more head on and then cut inside of them to cut off a QB’s escape lane up the middle.
As a run stopper, he similarly has a good feel for making plays out of a 2-gap responsibility and can shoot sideways off of a blocker to make a tackle in either direction.
You forgot about Qua Russaw, didn’t you? The guy that can literally play every position on the field
Russaw is a versatile player who, while generally ranked as an edge rusher, can play any linebacker position with similar effectiveness. Shoot, you could probably line him up at defensive tackle and he’d hold his own.
No matter what spot he’s in, Russaw plays full-speed through the whole play on every single play. And he’s not just a small, speedy linebacker... No, he’s built like a rocked up superhero and moves about as fast as one too.
On the edge, he’s got a blinding-fast speed rush, and he’s also adept at taking on a blocker head on and setting the edge in the run game to keep things contained. He’s fast, and he really, really powerful. Seriously, he often straight-up wins shoving and leverage matches with offensive linemen much larger than him and he rarely loses any ground while being blocked. It’s like watching a small boulder that just refuses to get moved.
If that doesn’t get your heart pumping, you may be dead.
There’s simply no excuse for this group to not be the best, most productive, and deepest group of pass rushers in the country — indeed, the best group of outside ‘backers that Nick Saban has ever fielded. And that is no faint praise.
Dallas Turner having a slump, as he did last year in spurts? Braswell just not making the impact you’d want out of a Jack? Well, then take your pick of half-a-dozen other hungry, blue-chip guys sitting on the bench, raring to inflict violence off the edge. There shall be no loafing — nor snaps taken off — from practice until the clock hits 00:00:00 on Saturdays. Excellence is demanded to even sniff the field with these guys.
And that makes this a group worthy of Gumping over.