FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – It hasn’t always been pretty this season, but they get the job done.
The 2012 Alabama defense has been overshadowed by the offense during this run to the BCS National Championship, due to the loss of talent from the 2011 championship and one of the most prolific offensive seasons in Crimson Tide history.
Gone are the household names – Dont’a Hightower, Dre Kirkpatrick and Mark Barron to name a few.
“This group has probably been one of my most favorite to coach since I’ve been at Alabama because of the expectations,” said defensive coordinator Kirby Smart on Friday. “They didn’t have bad expectations, but a lot of the media, you guys, had bad expectations for this group. I never was worried about their competitive character.”
But this defense is a fine tuned symphony, orchestrated by Smart, with head coach Nick Saban as the overseer.
When instruments are removed due to leaving early for the NFL Draft, graduation or injury, a new part is inserted and expected to perform to the same standards set by its predecessors.
“This defense had a big chip on their shoulders because all everybody talked about was what they lost, but nobody mentioned who they had coming back,” said Chris Low, who cover the SEC for ESPN.com “They were pretty hell bent on proving that the standard defensively never changes. You might lose great players, but defensively the standard remains the same.”
The standard is consistently having one of the top defenses in the nation. The new crop of defensive standouts has Alabama ranked in the top six of every major defensive statistic – No. 1 in total defense allowing 246 yards per game, No. 1 in rushing defense allowing 79.77 yards per game at 2.46 yards per carry, No. 6 in passing defense allowing 162.23 yards per game, and No. 2 in scoring defense allowing 10.69 points per game.
But what goes into creating a culture of winning and being able to sustain a standard of excellence even when players move on?
“The most important thing is that Alabama has been so good at evaluating talent and bringing in guys who are willing to compete and wait their turn,” Low said.
The biggest example of guys “waiting their turn” is junior linebacker C.J. Mosley. Despite being an All-American and the team’s most productive player, Mosley isn’t technically a starter. He backs up senior Nico Johnson, another guy who “waited his turn” behind former Tide standouts such as Hightower and Courtney Upshaw.
Mosley leads the team with 99 tackles. He has seven tackles for loss, four sacks, two interceptions, two pass breakups, one recovered fumble and a forced fumble. Mosley’s three career interception returns for touchdowns also tie an Alabama record.
Mosley is one of many Tide players who have sacrificed personal statistics and accolades. That comes from Saban, Smart and the other coaches who have emphasized process over results.
The two of them combine for a dynamic duo of creating schemes and recruiting talent. But not just any talent. It has to be talent that fits a certain criteria the team uses to ensure it is getting high character athletes.
Smart is one of the most sought after coordinators at the college level and NFL franchises have come knocking at Saban’s door in attempt to bring the three-time national championship coach back to the league. The two show no signs of leaving or slowing down anytime soon.
“It helps to have Saban and Smart, that combo,” Low said. “I just don’t see with those two guys being there, them ever being bad on defense.”