The Alabama defense is pockmarked with new faces this spring. Almost every position has been touched by turnover. It’s not just players, either. The coaching staff returned just one of its four full-time assistants from 2017.

But the face at the top hasn’t changed. That gives players confidence in continuing what Alabama has done for so many years.

“Coach Saban, he’s going to put the best, he’s going to recruit the best, he’s going to hire the best,” defensive lineman Quinnen Williams said. “So, you feel confident in whatever he does, so you really don’t have a problem with whatever he does because you know whoever he brings in, they’re going to be the best.”

Williams is one of the players expected to take on a bigger role following the departure of defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne. Alabama also needs two new starters at inside linebacker and to find replacements for six of its top players in the secondary. Defensive line, inside linebacker and defensive back also have new position coaches this spring.

Saturday’s closed scrimmage at Bryant-Denny Stadium can be the first step towards filling in some of the blanks. It’s the first of three Alabama scrimmages this spring, culminating in the A-Day game on April 21.

“The first scrimmage is an evaluation of how we’ve come since the first day of spring practice,” Williams said. “But it’s just really another practice. Everybody wants to get better every day, so we all approach a scrimmage just like a regular practice, like get better.”

It’s not exactly like a practice, though. Coaches can apply particular situations and to turn up the pressure.

“When the coaches leave the field and don’t tell them what to do, who can be responsible enough to go out there and know what to do and make the calls and do the things that we need to do to get the execution that we need,” Saban said. “So that’ll be a goal.”

Saban said Tuesday that the defense was a “bit of a work in progress” as it tries to fit together the pieces. There’s still five months to find the fit before Alabama’s first game. For now, Saban said he’s looking for the intangibles he wants to see from players: effort, discipline, mental and physical toughness.

Players want to show that no matter the turnover, those qualities haven’t left the team.

“The defensive line runs things around here,” Williams said. “Like in the past you had Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne, Dalvin Tomlinson, A’Shawn Robinson. A lot of great leaders on this defensive line who really ran the defense and made sure everybody was in order. We just really want to be that defensive line.”

Reach Ben Jones at or 205-722-0196.