Notes: Mixing and matching on defense

August, 23, 2012
8/23/12
10:03
PM ET
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Like a high school athlete who is good at multiple sports and excellent at none, there's a temptation to do too much with young talent, to force the issue and create more problems than answers.

Such is the case at Alabama. The secondary is filled with mostly inexperienced players and it has caused the coaching staff to look at their roster and push the limits, to see how many positions for one player is too much.

"Where guys get into the complicated issues is, when they’re young players, and you try to teach them corner and star, or you try to teach them safety and money," Alabama coach Nick Saban said.

"Some of our younger players this year are in a situation because we don’t have a lot of depth in the secondary, where we’re having to do that with some of them. That probably makes it a more difficult learning curve."

Luckily for Deion Belue, he hasn't been one of the players forced into multiple roles. It's part of the reason the junior college transfer has shined since enrolling in February and stands to start at cornerback for the Tide.

"If you’ve got seven or eight decent players, they have to know more roles because it’s the only way to get the best players on the field," Saban said. "Deion’s not in that position. He just learned corner. He’s done a good job at it."

While the secondary is stretching its numbers, the linebackers have the advantage of playing a mix-and-match game since the unit goes five and six deep.

C.J. Mosley prefers his role in nickel, where he can drop back in pass coverage or rush the passer. If there's a running situation, it's likely that he'll be pulled out of the game for Nico Johnson. It's all a matter of who matches up best.

"If he puts me or puts Nico or Trey [DePriest] in, we've all got to do what we've got to do," Mosley said.

Offensive explosion: It's no secret that Saban wants more explosive plays on offense. Some may equate that to mean more deep passing, but it's not necessarily the case.

"A big play is a 20-yard pass and a 15-yard run," Saban said. "Sometimes you catch and run with it for a long ways. So you don’t just have to throw bombs to make explosive plays."

Saban said he trusts AJ McCarron to make those reads and go for the big play when the time is right.

"AJ’s got the kind of decision-making that you can take chances doing some of those things and not have negative plays," he said. "If quarterbacks try to force balls because they see an opportunity to make a big play, that cannot be such a good thing."

Such was the case against Mississippi State in 2010, when cameras caught Saban chewing out McCarron on the sidelines after an interception.

"AJ and I made 'SportsCenter' on one of those a couple years ago," Saban quipped. "Lead story, I think."

Evaluating the H-back position: At LSU, Saban coached one of the more versatile players in college football in Jacob Hester. The hybrid tailback could do it all: run with speed, power or catch the ball out of the backfield.

While former Alabama H-back Brad Smelley wasn't quite the same athlete, he was versatile and provided the offense multiple looks. With Smelley gone and his time at LSU long past, Saban is looking for a similar type of athlete this season.

"It’s a difficult role to find a guy who has the skill set to do it," Saban said. "... We’re trying to do it some with Jalston Fowler, because he’s 250 pounds, can block, is a really good receiver, is fast, has running skills and running ability, but he’s also playing running back.

"We have several guys that are working at that position and we’ve got a couple of big guys that are pretty good blocking tight ends. So do we have a specialty guy like Smelley was? Maybe not all wrapped into one."

Sorting out the defensive ends: Quinton Dial has been the third man on the defensive line at practice of late, but competition for the spot opposite Jesse Williams and Damion Square is still up for grabs. Recently, Ed Stinson has taken snaps with the first unit.

"Those two are very physical players with really long arms, so it's really hard to get your hands inside on them.They're both really skilled," said guard Chance Warmack.

"We have probably six or seven guys on the defensive line who will rotate and play if we stay healthy at that position, and they’ll all have some sort of role," Saban said. "... [Dial] is a starter whether he starts the game or not."

Injury updates: Eddie Lacy practiced on Thursday after suffering a sprained ankle on Saturday. ... Amari Cooper is still day-to-day and will likely not practice again until Monday. ... Cornerback Bradley Sylve fractured his hand but is not expected to miss much time. Saban said he is day-to-day. ... Offensive lineman Ryan Kelly will be back at practice on Monday.

Alex Scarborough | email

Alabama/SEC reporter

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