Going into this edition of the annual A-Day spring game fans had questions surrounding the defense, who would be replacing several vacancies left due to graduation and the NFL Draft. From the outside looking in, fans unfamiliar with those departing players would say “just plug in another 5-Star” and shrug it off. However, to Alabama fans, losing marquee players like Isaiah Buggs, Mack Wilson(who some thought may return), Deionte Thompson, Christian Miller, and projected top 5 pick Quinnen Williams is a big deal. “Plugging in another 5-Star” isn’t the cure-all for losing high impact players regarded by many as legends at the Capstone.
By no means is the cupboard bare defensively. Saban would have the luxury of returning stars such as Raekwon Davis, Anfernee Jennings, Dylan Moses, Xavier McKinney, and Trevon Diggs, to name a few. However, as mentioned above, there are some glaring spots that must be filled. So, how would Nick Saban and newly appointed defensive coordinator Pete Golding address this? The “young guys” stepped up, answering the call.
The first to make his presence known was true freshman LB Shane Lee(8 tackles, 1 INT). He intercepted a poorly thrown pass by Mac Jones and put the Crimson team in position to score their first touchdown of the day. The audience heard his name called quite often that day and he was a frequent nightmare to both quarterbacks and running backs alike. Sophomore LB Jaylen Moody would get in on the action as well. Moody picked off a struggling early enrollee, QB Paul Tyson, and returned it 30 yards for a pick-six. He, much like his counterpart, was a pest to the opposing offense for the better part of the afternoon. One last player I cannot leave out is LB Christopher Allen. Allen returned this spring after spending all of 2018 sidelined due to a knee injury sustained in the preseason. He contributed 3 tackles and 2 sacks. Aside from that, I watched his mechanics and acceleration as he went through each assignment. Allen was poised and played like a man trying to make an NFL roster. He looked very comfortable. At times, he looked as if he never had the injury.
In the secondary, it was sophomore DB Josh Jobe(4 tackles, 3 PBUs) who was the unshakable shadow to any receiver he covered. In the event passes were caught, which was rare and hard earned, he turned into someone resembling a WWE wrestler. If Vince McMahon was watching, he may have found a potential star when Jobe’s playing career is over. He made his opposition pay and even drew a flag for his relentless physicality at times.
Up front, it was the combination of early enrollees DJ Dale(1 sack)and Antonio Alfano(2 sacks). Earlier in the week, Dale was drawing comparisons to former Alabama great and current star with the Redskins, Da’Ron Payne. As a matter of fact, DJ was quick to correct those making comparisons. He stated that he is better than Payne. That’s quite a lofty statement. At times, I witnessed Alfano and Dale out maneuvering & completely overpowering offensive lineman who were seasoned vets. So, Dale’s claim may not be too far off. Only time will tell. However, sophomore Phidarian Mathis was the star of the defensive line with 5 tackles and 2 sacks. Many are hoping that Mathis will be the solution to fill the vacancy left by Quinnen Williams. At times last season, he showed flashes of dominance. With his performance on A-Day, he gave fans more reason to be optimistic.
The “regulars” on defense were not without their contributions. Xavier McKinney(7 tackles, 1 TFL), Dylan Moses(6 tackles), Anfernee Jennings(4 tackles, 1 sack), Trevon Diggs(2 tackles, 1 INT, 1 PBU), and Raekwon Davis(2 tackles, 1 sack) all showed that they are ready to punish SEC offenses in the fall. Star LB Terrell Lewis did not participate in the game. No need to be alarmed. The coaching staff did this merely as a precaution as he continues his comeback from an injury that caused him to miss the 2018 season. He should be 100% by Alabama’s game against Duke to open the season.
Overall, the defense with the help of both “young” and “old” players stole the show. They were down right ruthless, to be quite honest. Running back Brian Robinson was held to 42 yards on the ground. Najee Harris, who is primed for a breakout season, was held to 23 yards rushing and 1 score. Quarterbacks were ravaged to the tune of 12 sacks. It doesn’t stop there. They also came away with 4 interceptions. Keep in mind that these were the combined numbers of both the Crimson and White squads. However, any way you look at it, this was abuse. For now, it looks as though depth/replacement concerns may have been stifled. After seeing this, it was an “A-Day” to remember, at least for the defense.
I am a 2003 graduate from the University of Alabama with a degree in Exercise Science. While at the Capstone, I served as a student assistant with the head strength and conditioning coach of the Crimson Tide football team. I have competed in both powerlifting and bodybuilding for several years. In addition, I have served athletes and people through the arena of personal training. Jesus is my Lord and Savior. I am a passionate fan of Alabama, but do not make other fan bases miserable because of it. College football has my heart first, but I cover all areas of sports. Follow me on Twitter: @justinriley7!