There is no internal recalibration of standards for the Alabama football team’s defense, despite perfectly good reason for it.
That reason is entirely injury related, first with veteran linebackers Dylan Moses and Joshua McMillon and now with defensive line starter LaBryan Ray. UA coach Nick Saban said Ray is, “probably out for sure,” for Saturday’s game against Southern Miss, and further testing on his injured foot will determine the length of his absence.
Yet, UA is settling for no less than its usual excellence.
“Yeah, it’s always going to be the same. We play to a standard,” senior defensive lineman Raekwon Davis said. “We just have to do it. Sometimes it’s going to be hard.”
It will be hard for No. 2 Alabama (3-0, 1-0 SEC) to have one of the nation’s best defenses this season; if it does, it will be on the back of an impressive youth movement. With so many inexperienced players on the field, Alabama is taking a walk-before-we-run approach defensively.
“Well, I think we’ve got to work hard with those guys to get them to play well,” Saban said. “The challenge for us as coaches is to try to teach those guys, and I think if those guys can get really comfortable with the basics and the basic fundamentals, then their ability to adapt in a game or when different things come up, they’re going to be able to adjust.
“But you really can’t coach experience into players. You can just try to teach them how to do things, and as they get more repetitions, hopefully, they’re going to improve and develop confidence and that’s our goal with each and every one of those guys.”
The freshmen at linebacker — Shane Lee and Christian Harris — were under the microscope as South Carolina targeted them, but they won’t be alone going forward. Freshman defensive lineman Justin Eboigbe will be looked to as one of Ray’s primary replacements, and even the non-freshmen in the mix are far from experienced.
If Alabama does make a change at linebacker, it will likely be for Ale Kaho — a sophomore with all of 18 career tackles. Even in the secondary, consistent fixtures such as Jared Mayden and Daniel Wright are non-freshmen with little in top-line playing experience, then there’s freshman Jordan Battle in that mix.
The first step is the basics of the defense — the ones UA tried to operate on against South Carolina and showed need for improvement. The veterans of the defense know how they will be operating for the near future.
“We’re older, so we’re going to work around them, we’re going to play off them and they’re doing a good job,” cornerback Trevon Diggs said. “We’ve been doing basically fundamentals ever since they got here, you know, in the summer, spring, all that. It’s just repetition, over time, you’ll get it and I’m not worried about that at all. They’re going to get it.
“It’s all about communication at the end of the day, and everyone’s communicating and everyone’s getting around and talking, everything’s going to work out perfectly fine. You just have to communicate.”
It helps that UA is starting far from rock bottom. The players its has to choose from are inexperienced, yes, but they are also immensely talented. Davis expects that to help Eboigbe as he works into a bigger role.
“He’s a very young guy, but I think he knows the standard for what the D-Line guys do and I feel like he’s going to hold to that standard,” Davis said. “I feel like he’s one of the young guys who has stepped up and is ready to show the world he can play big boy football.”
The same can be said for many of the young and/or inexperienced players to be featured on Alabama’s defense. But talent won’t be what makes them reach the program’s uncompromising standard. Their ability to graduate from basic is what will determine their postseason plans.