It’s not every day you get to talk to an Alabama coordinator. But media day only comes once a year, and defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt took some time to field questions. He enters his second season with the Crimson Tide as defensive coordinator after working with the program earlier in his career as an assistant and off-field staffer.
Here’s what Pruitt said:
“Thank you everybody for coming. You can tell we’re a couple of days into practice. I’m already a little bit hoarse. It’s kind of an exciting time for everybody that’s involved in the coaching profession. We always look forward to this time of year. You kind of get an opportunity to see your team for the first time and shape, and mold, create an identity of what we’re going to be able to put out on the field this year.
“We lost several good players last year but we have a lot of guys returning at all three levels: up front, outside linebacker, inside linebacker and secondary. I hope we have an opportunity for these guys to use their experience to create leadership with these younger guys. I think we have some really good young players that are going to compete for jobs. We’re excited to get going.”
You lost seven NFL draft picks. How big a challenge is it to replace that leadership, talent?
“In this profession, it happens every year and it happens everywhere. It really doesn’t matter if they go to the NFL or if they go into the work force. You have to replace them. So it’s something that we had to do the year before and has been done here for a while. It creates opportunities for other guys. That’s why they came here, to have an opportunity to get on the field and compete and play. I think we have good competition everywhere.”
What does Da’Ron Payne have to do to be a three-down lineman?
“You know, he played some three-down last year. He’s really worked hard in the offseason, I think, maybe to get in better shape. It gives him an opportunity to do that. I think with the graduation with some guys, it also opens some doors for him to possibly be more of a third down guy.”
You blitzed a little more than under Kirby. Can you talk about that philosophy, what led you to do that? Do you think you’ll do it as effectively this year?
“I think any time you bring more than four guys, you’re putting pressure on the back end. To do that, you have to have guys who can stand up and play man-to-man. Obviously, that’s where the pressure’s at. We had some guys back there that have experience and we have some guys that were good blitzers. I think over the next two or three weeks we’ll kind of see how we develop as a team and see if that’s our identity or not.”
Where can Rashaan Evans take his game now? What do you want to see from him?
“Rashaan is a really good athlete. We have a group of guys that play inside backer that all have a unique skill set. When Rashaan got here he was more of an outside pass rusher and we’ll continue to use him in that role, but to play every down he moved inside this past year. He’s still learning. I think he’s improving every day.”
How important is it for you to bring a kid in as a freshman and allow him to leave as a complete football player?
“I think one thing that’s very unique here, when you watch our team periods, we two-spot. That’s one thing about player development that Coach Saban does. We have four teams out there, so everybody gets the same amount of reps. So nobody is sitting on the side watching. I think that is unique in the fact that guys have the opportunity to develop. You see a big difference in the time from the freshmen to the time that they’re seniors.”
Terrell Lewis, what does he bring? How do you replace Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson?
“We have several guys returning at outside linebacker that had an opportunity to play last year. Terrell Lewis, Christian Miller and Anfernee Jennings. Then we have some younger guys there. That’s why we practice. The kinds are going to continue to work and develop. We’ll see over the next few weeks.”
What have you seen from Isaiah Buggs and Raekwon Davis? Do they push each other for that spot?
“Really, we don’t have anybody plugged into any spots. I think that’s one of the things that’s very evident here over the last 10 years, Coach has what he calls a rep chart. There is no depth chart right now. We’ve got 11 guys that are competing for three positions and we haven’t even put pads on. So it’s really hard to judge how a defensive lineman is going to play without pads on. We’ll see over the next few weeks.”
Coach Saban talked about developing depth on the defensive line. What do guys have to do to show that they’ve earned playing time?
“I think you said it right there, consistency. One thing about great defenses that is very unique is that they find the way to do the right thing over and over and over again. You watch college football, probably every team out there plays well at certain times in the game. But who can do it over and over? I think that’s one thing our guys have to prove in the course of the next couple weeks.”
There’s some competition at outside linebacker with newcomers VanDarius Cowan, Chris Allen and Markail Benton. What are their strengths?
“Well, you know, who’d you say again? The freshmen? Dylan Moses was here in the spring, so we got 15 days with him. But the other guys, during the summer we don’t watch them practice. We’re not out there with them so, basically, we’ve had two days. So it’s really hard to get a gauge on what they can and can’t do after two days.”
What do you see behind Shaun Dion Hamilton and Rashaan Evans at inside linebacker? Guys like Mack Wilson, Ben Davis.
“Well, again, we’ve got four groups that are out there competing. We watch all the tape. They’re all running the same defenses every day. So we’ve got two days, really, of body of work. I think over the next couple of weeks I think it’ll kind of shake itself out. We would love to have six or seven guys that can play that spot.”
What does it say about Minkah that he can play safety or cornerback? Tempted to move him around a lot?
“No, I don’t think you’re tempted to. I think his skill set gives you an opportunity to. The fact that he can play all six positions in the secondary allows you a little flexibility to kind of see who the other guys are. If we need help at corner, he can play corner. If we need him inside at star and money he can play there. And safety. So he’s got a unique skill set so that gives you a little flexibility.”
How has this offseason been challenging for you with a newborn?
“That’s a good question there. You should ask my wife that. No, I think everybody here probably has children. I think it’s probably the most, to me, precious deal to bring one into the world. To me, I look at it when it comes to coaching, it’s the same deal. I have a son who plays at Jacksonville State and I know how I want him to be treated. So when these guys walk in here at the University of Alabama, they’re somebody’s kid. I tell my guys in the room all the time – which none of them really have children – I tell them, ‘I’m gonna tel you something: If you don’t pray, you’re gonna pray whenever your wife’s pregnant. You’ll start praying then.’ I’ve been praying a lot.”
What does your experience at Florida State and time with Jimbo Fisher mean for hints to their offense leading into the opener?
“Well, in fall camp here we’ve really been focusing on us. I worked a year at Florida State and was very thankful for the opportunity. It was a great year, had an opportunity to win the national championship and have a tremendous amount of respect for what they do and what they have done. But really, right now, we’re kind of focused on us and that’s what we’ll continue to focus on for the next few weeks.”
What kind of progress have you seen from Raekwon Davis?
“I can say this, it’s not just about Raekwon, it’s about probably every football player that comes into this program and probably anywhere: In the recruiting process kids are much better football players when they’re a senior than when they’re a freshman. Raekwon was a freshman last year and it’s just kind of the process of developing as a football player. I’m sure over the next couple years he’ll improve and he’ll continue to get better.”
What kind of challenges are there for Trevon Diggs playing between DB and CB and how has he progressed?
“The good thing is at wide receiver and you come over there to DB you don’t have any bad habits. You’re really just learning. I think Trevon’s got a good skill set. The one thing about him, he’s a team player since he’s been here. He said, hey, I’ll play wherever y’all need me to play and we appreciate him for that.”
You lost some alpha dogs from last year’s defense. Who are some of the guys in spring and football to step up into those roles?
“I think when it comes to leadership roles it’s not something that you just do in the offseason or during spring ball. I think it’s something that kind of develops over time. We’re not there yet. When it comes to the leadership roles, I think that develops as you practice. That’s why you have fall camp. That’s why they all live in the dorm together, kind of build some camaraderie there. You put them in adverse situations and the guys who are the leaders, they kind of rise to the top there. We’ll figure it out over the next couple weeks.”
What kind of growth have you seen from Ronnie Harrison from spring to now?
“Well, from spring to now. Again, we’ve only practiced two days. But I think Ronnie is one of these guys that has played a lot of ball around here. It’s no different when a guy’s sitting there in that room and we talk to him. One of the first things I tell them is, ‘I’m not smarter than you, I’m just older than you.’ I think as a football player, the more time that you’re out there and you play, obviously you’re going to get wiser, you’ve got more experience to draw from. He’s had two years that he’s played here. I think it’s kind of that progression you hoped as a freshman. Now he’s a junior, he’ll continue to improve and get better.”