Editor’s note: In each of the final 10 days before Alabama opens preseason practice on Aug. 17, The Tuscaloosa News will pose a question to be answered in the preseason weeks. This is the first of those 10 questions.
The last year of the previous decade was by far the University of Alabama’s worst in terms of run stopping. It was the only time in the decade it finished outside of the top 25 nationally in yards per carry allowed; it allowed 59 runs of 10 yards or more, having allowed fewer than 40 in every other year of the decade excluding 2018.
In each of the five seasons prior, UA tallied at least 95 tackles for a loss, more often than not more than 100. In 2019, it mustered just 78.
Many of the struggles were attributed to inexperience at the defense’s linchpin position, inside linebacker, where two freshmen starters (Shane Lee and Christian Harris) were coached by a defensive coordinator in his first season in the role at UA (Pete Golding). When the Crimson Tide begins preseason practice on Aug. 17, it will have an All-American candidate back at inside linebacker in Dylan Moses. But will he be enough to flip the fortunes of UA’s run defense?
Moses’ 2018 season showed him to be one of the best linebackers in the SEC: he was 10th in the SEC among linebackers in tackles for a loss, with 10, but several of the linebackers ahead of him were boosted by productive sack totals, meaning Moses was doing most of his damage against the run.
More than that, Moses is experienced. Communication issues were unavoidable with freshmen making all of the calls, issues that Moses’ presence is expected to fix.
But Moses will have to overcome some setbacks. The defensive line in front of him could be better than it was last season — four freshmen logged time in at least 10 games last year, and maybe UA will get more than three games from LaBryan Ray — but the edges could be vulnerable. Losing both outside linebacker starters (Anfernee Jennings and Terrell Lewis) means losing two of the SEC’s top 10 in both tackles for a loss and sacks.
It may be impossible to attribute any improvement in run defense in 2020 exclusively to Moses’ return, given the projected improvement on the defensive line, but if Moses is able to cover sideline-to-sideline against the run and make up for the lost edge presence, his presence could be the X factor that his absence was in 2019.
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson