22 August 2008
| Bobby Greenwood - #93 – SR – 6-5 – 278 lbs – 3 Varsity Letters
Terrence Cody - #62 – JR – 6-5 – 380 lbs – Junior College Transfer
Brandon Deaderick - #95 – JR – 6-4 – 286 lbs – 2 Varsity Letters
Lorenzo Washington - #97 – JR – 6-5 – 275 lbs – 2 Varsity Letters
Milton Talbert - #90 – SO - 6-3 – 263 lbs – 1 Varsity Letter
Luther Davis - #96 – SO – 6-3 – 299 lbs – 1 Varsity Letter
Nick Gentry - #58 – FR – 6-1 – 254 lbs – Redshirt Freshman
Josh Chapman - #99 – FR – 6-1 – 305 lbs – Redshirt Freshman
Marcel Dareus - #57 – FR – 6-3 – 280 lbs – True Freshman
Damion Square – #92 – FR – 6-2 – 290 lbs – True Freshman
Undra Billingsley - #94 – FR – 6-3 – 275 lbs – True Freshman
Who are the starters?
At the moment it looks to be Bobby Greenwood and Brandon Deaderick on the ends with Terrence Cody in the middle.
Who are the primary backups?
There is a steady rotation on the defensive line, and the #2 unit appears to be Lorenzo Washington and Marcel Dareus on the ends with Josh Chapman in the middle.
When discussing Alabama’s 2008 defense you hear the words “front seven” come up repeatedly. And in most cases there is concern when talking about it.
If you are new to this, the “front seven” refers to the seven guys closest to football on defense. In most base defensive fronts those seven guys will be made up of defensive linemen and linebackers. In the case of Alabama’s defense, the 3-4 set, that means seven linemen and seven linebackers.
Coming into the season Alabama looked to be enormously thin in its front seven, with very little experience on the defensive line. That’s still the case, with only five of the 11 guys playing the position having lettered at Alabama. And of those guys only three have played a substantial amount.
It’s amazing what an influx of talent can do to your roster, though, and nowhere is this more prevalent than on that D-line. Of the six guys who figure to factor heavily into the rotation two are newcomers to the Tide this season (Cody and Dareus), and a third redshirted in 2007 (Chapman).
Normally I would hesitate to even think about counting on a newcomer to be able to step in and play, especially when you are talking about the guys in the trenches, right at the point of attack. But the coaching staff appears to be so confident in this group that we’ve seen Brian Motley and Alfred McCullough move from the defensive line to the offensive line. Motley was a starter at times last season at nose guard, and McCullough had a huge day on A-Day at defensive end.
But when you throw two guys into the mix as newcomers that step foot onto campus ready to play, add them to two guys who split starting duties last season, and add in the emergence of a couple of returning players, then the next thing you know, you have the makings of a real defensive line.
Before getting into things too much, it is important to discuss the roles of the defensive line in Nick Saban’s 3-4 defense:
The nose guard has one job – clog the middle. What you hope to have is a guy who can close off the area directly in front of the center effectively enough that the opposing offense has to double team him in order to have any part of the middle of the field available to him.
The defensive ends have a similar job, to force teams to account for them. They must remain in their gaps and force teams to have a blocker assigned to them. They have some outside responsibility, but their main focus is on locking down the middle of the field. Essentially you want them to push the ends of the line into the backfield, forcing the play to where the linebackers are waiting. If they can make the play themselves, especially behind the line of scrimmage, then all the better.
If all three guys do their job correctly, then four of the five offensive linemen should be occupied. You’ve now got just one offensive lineman available to account for four linebackers. If one of your ends can command a double team also, then it completely eliminates the offensive line from being able to deal with the linebackers, which is how you end up with a dominant defense.
Saban tries to accomplish that by typically fielding DEs that are a bit on the super-sized end of things compared to ends playing for most schools.
Alabama’s last national championship came in 1992 when the Tide had James Gregory demanding the double team in the middle with all-stars John Copeland and Eric Curry dominating on the outside. Throw in four good linebackers and a great secondary and you get a championship caliber defense.
But first things first… you’ve got to have the type of defensive line that can clog the middle of the field, give the linebackers room to make plays, and hopefully impact the way that the offense can use its personnel.
That starts with the man in the middle, and things look as though the Tide will have an enormous beast of a man ready to clog things up. Terrence Cody is one of the largest players to ever don the Crimson uniform. He’s listed at 380 lbs by the University, though he was rumored to have been well over 400 lbs on A-Day. Indications are that he is actually closer to 370 lbs at the moment, and surprisingly in fantastic condition for a guy his size.
He’s been the subject of a lot of discussion this off season, with most of it seeming to relegate him to a situational player, a guy who can only play one or two plays at a time before having to be relieved. What has happened over the course of the summer and the fall camp is that Cody has demonstrated that he can be an “every down” type of player. He is in good enough shape to play consistently throughout the game without conditioning being an issue on every play.
Behind him is redshirt freshman Josh Chapman, considered by some to be the team’s strongest player. He is the prototype size for the nose guard position, low to the ground and built like a tank. He uses his strength, along with great leverage skills, to really put the opposing team’s center into a quick fix.
These two guys have been strong enough up front through the summer and fall camp that the two guys who shared starting duties (and the vast majority of the playing time) are playing elsewhere now – Motley at center and Lorenzo Washington at defensive end.
There will be a learning curve for both guys as they adjust to playing in the SEC, but despite both guys looking for their first real time on the field at Alabama, they are not newcomers to the position. Cody has spent two years playing the middle at Junior College and Chapman spent all of last season learning the position at Alabama.
If they struggle to lock down the middle, then Bama still has Washington available to play the position, as well as a couple of freshmen who are able to slide in. Throw McCullough’s name back into the mix as well if things go poorly, as his move to the offense is anything but permanent at this time.
So with the middle potentially taken care of, the ends have to be addressed. Last season Greenwood and Deaderick split time starting at the end position opposite of Wallace Gilberry, who is now with the New York Giants. Gilberry was a force for the Tide defense last season, leading the SEC in tackles for a loss, so there are big shoes to fill.
Greenwood showed flash at times as a freshman and sophomore, racking up 5.5 sacks and 8 tackles for a loss as a part-timer during his first 2 seasons. With the Tide switching to a 3-4 defense last year, his role change significantly and his production suffered either for that reason or because of a lingering ankle injury. He was the defensive end that lined up inside the tackle box, making him seem at times like a defensive tackle. This limited his explosiveness off of the end, which was the strength of his game. He still spent some time in the backfield, but 1 sack was a bit of a let down for many. Injuries limited him severely midseason, and he was never able to regain his starting job.
That duty went to Brandon Deaderick, a guy much more suited for playing the end position inside the tackle. He ended the season with 2 sacks, but was in the backfield considerably more than any defensive lineman other than Gilberry.
With that in mind, this season Greenwood has moved to the other side, putting him back outside the tackle box. He can now be the guy that comes off of the end, attempting to make use of his speed and get into the backfield. Deaderick, meanwhile, can continue to grow off of his strong 2007 and be a force inside the tackle box – the guy mostly likely to take advantage of any double teams drawn by the nose guard.
Lorenzo Washington making the move out to defensive end completely changes things on the line for me, and could bring into question the starting status of Greenwood. Washington was small as a nose guard last year, but managed to use his quick, explosive first step to disrupt a lot of plays at the beginning. You typically don’t see big numbers from the guy in the middle, but Washington managed to have more sacks than either Greenwood or Deaderick. Putting him on the outside now allows him to take advantage of that quickness to get into the backfield.
Behind Deaderick is super strong incoming freshman Marcel Dareus. He played a lot of defensive tackle in high school where he simply bullied most of the offensive linemen who tried to block him. Obviously there is a greater level of strength in the SEC, but from day one of the fall camp Dareus showed the ability to use not just his strength, but refined technique to create havoc on the line.
It is likely that more than six guys will rotate on the line during most games, and the Tide is still looking for someone to step up and push for those other spots in the rotation. Chances are that Washington would get the first look at nose guard behind Cody and Chapman, which would then open up more chances on the outside.
Waiting to take advantage of that is Milton Talbert. Considered by many fans to be an afterthought, another one of “Shula’s guys” that just wasn’t SEC caliber talent. When you take into consideration that he was brought in to play end in a 4-3 defense, which calls for much lighter ends, it complicated matters.
He’s still a bit on the small side for a DE in the 3-4, but what his 263 lbs frame doesn’t show you is his work ethic. This is a kid who might simply have worked his way into the rotation. It helps him that he’s battling with younger players, so he is much more physically mature than the guys he’s competing against for time in the rotation. But he has quite simply out worked the other guys. I was one of the people that thought he might not ever see the field, and it is possible that I could be wrong.
Talbert is currently working with the scout team, but that has more to do with Clemson’s style of defensive end that needs to emulated in Tide practice than it does with where he stands on the team. If he sees time it will most likely be behind Greenwood and Washington at the speed or rush end. He’s not flashy, but he seems to be someone that the coaches feel like they can count on.
The other end spot has a pretty serious battle going on for the chance to earn a potential spot in the rotation. Luther Davis played last year, and at times played well. He jumped ahead of Nick Gentry early last year when a preseason shoulder injury limited Gentry at the start of fall camp.
Any lead that Davis had vanished during the spring when he took an excused leave of absence from the team. He was only gone a couple of days, but has yet to move back ahead of Gentry on the depth chart. How much of that has to do with how Gentry is developing and how much has to do with Luther and his commitment to the team is unknown.
What I would classify as a known is that both of these guys are talented enough football players to play at a lot of schools. If they are fighting for the ability to get off of the scout team and into the playing rotation then I feel a lot better about Bama’s depth at the end position.
That leaves the two other true freshmen, Undra Billingsley and Damion Square unaccounted for. A guy like Dareus being able to come in and compete immediately is a rarity, so it is not a shock to see these guys taking some time to adjust to the college game.
Square has worked at end and nose guard, a further indication of the way that Nick Saban likes to use versatile guys to have personnel groupings able to line up in various formations. Billingsley is an end all the way. Either of these guys working their way into the rotation would not be a total shock, but I expect both to take a redshirt and use the year to get stronger and learn the defense. Square probably has a better chance of playing early, give that he can potentially play at any of the three spots.
Regardless of how they shake out, what has happened is that the Tide has actually developed some quality talent at the position. Yes, a great deal of it is still inexperienced, and that could cause some growing pains, especially early in the season.
Deaderick, Greenwood and Washington are experienced enough players that we sort of know what to expect from them. The key is Cody and Chapman being able to play the nose guard the way that it is supposed to be played. If they are able to take care of the position it not only frees Washington to remain at end, but should allow the ends to concentrate more on making plays than they were able to last season.
In essence, it is possible that the defensive line might have gone from a potential weakness to a potential strength. The guys still have to show it on the field, but there is definitely reason to have some optimism about this unit. They’ll get tested right out of the gate by Clemson’s 2-headed rushing attack of James Davis and CJ Spiller, and that should give us an indication of what we might see from the tide defensive line in 2008.
glen55's quick takes
I, too, am feeling much better about the DL than I felt a month ago. It's not any one thing, it's a combination of little things:
- Cody in better shape than expected
- Chapman giving Cody and Washington a real fight at nose guard
- Dareus making the kind of quick impact I had hoped for but not banked on
- Staff confident enough to spare McCullough and Motley for the OL
I'm with nxojkt - potential weakness to potential strength.
Also with nxojkt on his description of what Saban tries to accomplish with his D-line set-up. Good read, informative.
Greenwood showed real promise as a freshman, but he hasn't panned out since. A senior Bobby Greenwood who had progressed the amount you would have expected from the guy you watched as a freshman could be a force on the field. Will we get that Greenwood or the guy who piddled around and didn't get much done in '07?
Maybe he can take a cue from Wallace Gilberry, another guy who never quite lived up to his freshman promise until his senior year. As you know, Wallace finished with a bang.
Otherwise, there's no room for sentimentalizing about seniors in this business, so look for Washington to grab Greenwood's starting spot. Lorenzo's size and quickness make him just what the doctor ordered for a Saban DE, a guy who can run-stop but also has to be accounted for on the pass-rush, creating opportunities for the jack or other blitzers to get into the backfield.
The jury is out on Wallace Gilberry as an NFL player, but he was sure a beast in the SEC last year, especially late in the season when he gave us the most dominant line play we'd seen in years. He had to have made half the big plays our line made last year.
If we can replace him and have an improved DL overall - which certainly seems possible - it will be another feather in the cap for our defensive coaching staff. I hate counting unhatched eggs, but those guys seem pretty good.