- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
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Editor's note: From now until the start of spring camp on March 16, TideNation will count down the 12 most intriguing players to watch on the Alabama football roster. Today we look at linebacker Adrian Hubbard.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- If there was an obvious hole in Alabama's game this past season, it was generating consistent pressure on the offensive backfield. Put more simply, the pass rush was found to be lacking. There were six games in which the defense had two or fewer sacks and as many games where it had five or fewer tackles for loss. Without an elite pass rusher like Courtney Upshaw or Dont'a Hightower, the Crimson Tide failed to get to the quarterback enough, or at least not enough to meet head coach Nick Saban's standards.
"It’s not something that is a strength for us," Saban said in the weeks leading up to the BCS National Championship Game, "but we work hard on it. It seems like when we’re in individual drills we do a pretty good job in that regard. When we know it’s a pass we don’t do a bad job. I think the biggest issue is converting pass rush, you know, in run-pass situations."
He pointed out earlier in the season that the defense lacked a "dominant rusher" and that it was "a combination of not rushing on a consistent basis and not covering on a consistent basis that has been one of the problems that we've had."
But that was before the throttling of Notre Dame in South Florida and not far enough removed from the close of the season where it appeared that Alabama may have found its pass-rusher of the future. Adrian Hubbard, the long, athletic redshirt sophomore from Georgia, came on late in season with three sacks in the final three games. The talented outside linebacker played so well that he considered entering the NFL draft early, but decided on coming back for at least one more season.
"I feel like I can play a bigger role as a leader on our defense," Hubbard said of his decision to return to school, "and I also know I need to improve in some areas as a player before I hopefully take the next step to the NFL."
Said Saban: "Adrian has done a really good job for us and has continued to improve each season he’s been here. He’ll be counted on from not only a production standpoint, but also a leadership standpoint on next year’s team."
Ready or not, Hubbard's role is set to expand. With Alabama in search of a more potent pass rush, he's the man set to lead the charge.
As Alabama fans saw in 2011, all it takes is one dominant defender to change the complexion of the game. Upshaw was the man drawing the attention of offenses in 2011, and it may be Hubbard's turn to fill those shoes in 2013.
And with a lackluster secondary, it may have to be. Shutdown corner Dee Milliner is gone. So is safety Robert Lester. If the front seven can't get pressure on the pocket, quarterbacks will pick the secondary to the bone and the same problems that plagued last season's defense will happen again.