Alabama Crimson Tide: Ed Stinson

SEC's lunch links

April, 8, 2014
The SEC has been pumping out internet memes lately. Over the weekend there was Gene Chizik staring down his daughter's prom date. Then during Monday night's basketball national championship game, rapper Drake's many sports allegiances (Kentucky among them) were on display. Oh, and the kid Cats lost to UConn and then acted like they'd never heard of the NBA draft.

Let's swim back into the friendlier waters of SEC football, shall we?
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Maybe Dillon Lee wasn’t ready for the moment so soon. As a still green-under-the-collar rookie, he played in Alabama’s season-opener against Michigan two years ago. The former four-star recruit wasted no time making his presence felt, making his first career tackle and then intercepting a pass in the final two minutes of a blowout win that eventually propelled the Crimson Tide to another national championship.

At the time it looked as if Lee was destined to make an impact as a freshman, mixing in some sneaky athleticism into a group of linebackers that already featured veterans C.J. Mosley and Nico Johnson. But time was playing tricks on us. Lee didn't make another tackle all season. He played in the first four games and showed up on the participation chart only four more times over the final 10 games.

[+] EnlargeDillon Lee
AP Photo/Butch DillDillon Lee appears ready to be a starter on Alabama's defense.
To make matters worse, his immaturity showed when he and fellow freshman Ryan Anderson were sent home before the BCS National Championship game for missing curfew. Both players would have to work their way out of the doghouse.

Lee, by all accounts, did just that this past season, playing in all 13 games while earning the respect of his teammates and coaches. He was named special teams player of the week by the coaching staff following a victory over Ole Miss. Shortly after, Mosley praised him for being a “diverse player” who can play inside linebacker as well as on the edge. He called Lee “physical” and able to “hold the point of attack.”

Defensive end Ed Stinson called the 6-foot-4, 242-pound Lee “crazy.”

“In a good way,” he explained. “He works hard. He doesn’t ever hold back. He goes hard every time he gets in.”

Fellow linebacker Denzel Devall, who came in with Lee and started all 13 games at outside linebacker as a sophomore last season, echoed his former teammate's sentiments, noting Lee’s talent as well as his attitude.

“Dillon is very versatile,” Devall said. “Great guy. Very physical. Just an athlete. He's smart, and I believe he'll come in and do a great job for us.”

Though it’s still early in the spring, it looks as if Lee will play much more as a junior. While there’s no depth chart -- don’t even ask coach Nick Saban about one -- there is a big vacancy at linebacker where starting jobs at inside and outside linebacker are up for grabs. Lee figures to be best suited to play strong-side linebacker (Sam), where he was No. 2 on last season's depth chart behind Adrian Hubbard, who has since moved on to the NFL.

Lee, who has shown he can handle both positions on the field as well as his responsibilities away from it, could very well end up coming fill circle and start Alabama’s season-opener against West Virginia on Aug. 30 in Atlanta.

“I think Dillon Lee will be a really good player for us,” Saban said. “I think he has a good understanding of what we want him to do. He runs well. He's got good size and plays good block protection, especially at the line of scrimmage.

“We feel like he can be a very good player and competing for a starting job right now. We're confident that if he wins that job, he'll be able to do an outstanding job for us.”
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- There hasn't been much of a letdown in production from Alabama's defense compared to seasons past. The top-ranked Crimson Tide is still among the top-10 nationally in rushing yards allowed per game, passing yards allowed per game, third down conversions, first downs allowed and total defense. It's given up the fewest touchdowns (12) and the fewest points per game (10.2) in all of college football.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesNick Saban likes the way his Alabama defense has been rushing the passer this season.
One could nitpick and note its lack of a premiere cornerback or a true vocal leader, and he or she wouldn't be wrong. Deion Belue is good, but he's not a shutdown corner like Dee Milliner and Dre Kirkpatrick. And while C.J. Mosley is no doubt the leader of the defense at linebacker, he'd be the first to admit he's the kind to lead through actions and not words, unlike, say, Nico Johnson of a year ago or Dont'a Hightower before him.

But whatever the defense's minor flaws this season, there is one area that's gone under the radar where Alabama has actually improved from years past: rushing the passer. Through 11 games, the Tide has pressured the quarterback 26.1 percent of the time, compared to 22.5 percent in 2012 and 23.8 percent in 2011. UA leads the SEC in pressure percentage, which ESPN Stats and Info calculates as hurries plus knockdowns, divided by total dropbacks.

"I think we're making some improvement there," Alabama coach Nick Saban said of rushing the passer following last Saturday's 20-7 win at Mississippi State. "I think it's going to be critical we can do that in the future."

Alabama dialed up the pressure on Mississippi State, especially in the second half. A'Shawn Robinson, the Tide's standout freshman defensive lineman, had another sack against the Bulldogs, his fifth of the season. Denzel Devall (3), Adrian Hubbard (2) and Ed Stinson (1.5) trail Robinson for the team lead.

The weekend before against LSU, Alabama tackled quarterback Zach Mettenberger for no gain and then sacked him three straight times to end the game.

But if you follow Saban, you know he's not overly concerned with sacks. They have nothing to do with winning, he says, nothing at all. Rather, he wants to "affect the quarterback" where they're throwing the ball off balance and before they're ready, which can results in a much more beneficial stat: turnovers.

So in terms of a stat Saban would care more about -- hurries plus knockdowns, but excluding sacks -- hybrid linebacker/defensive end Xzavier Dickson holds the lead with 13, trailed by Hubbard (12), Robinson (12), Stinson (9) and Devall (6), according to ESPN Stats and Info.

However you define pressure, Alabama's defense is getting it at an impressive pace, and it will need to continue to do so in two weeks against No. 6 Auburn.

Not only do the Tigers lead the SEC in rushing, they have allowed the third fewest sacks in the league and the 10th fewest tackles for loss in the country.

Auburn doesn't throw the ball much, but the hope for Alabama is that it will be in quarterback Nick Marshall's face when he does. It won't be easy, but whether it's a sack or a pressure, the Tide needs to continue to get in the backfield and disrupt.

But however the Iron Bowl goes, expect Alabama's defense to continue its upward trend of affecting the quarterback in the coming seasons. Robinson is just a freshman, and we haven't yet seen the progression of his fellow rookies Jonathan Allen, Dee Liner and Tim Williams. If Dalvin Tomlinson can come back from injury, he's another guy who can rush the passer. And with last weekend's commitment of Da'Shawn Hand, the No. 2 defensive end prospect in the ESPN 300, even more help is on the way.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Ed Stinson's mammoth shoulders shrink, relaxing from the form that only half an hour earlier flexed to crash and beat up on 300-pound blockers for a full 60 minutes. Alabama's senior defensive end looked tired in the eyes after his team beat rival Tennessee 45-10 on Saturday, his dark brown pupils soft and eager for rest. After three straight SEC contests and seven consecutive game weeks, he and his teammates were eager for some time off.

"I've been waiting for it," he said, flashing a slight grin. An ear-to-ear smile would have required too much energy. "I'm one of the guys [who] needs to be healed."

[+] EnlargeChristion Jones, Amari Cooper
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAfter playing for seven straight weeks, No. 1 Alabama gets the weekend off to recover and heal.
The nature of his injuries are unknown, a buildup of bumps and bruises on his 6-foot-4, 292-pound frame. Nose guard Brandon Ivory, no lightweight at more than 300 pounds, is out in what coach Nick Saban describes as a "medical issue." H-back/running back Jalston Fowler can't make contact in practice because of a concussion. Cornerback Deion Belue is dealing with a nagging toe injury and the starter opposite him, Bradley Sylve, isn't yet 100 percent either.

And that's just the injuries we know of.

The bye week comes at the perfect time for top-ranked Alabama. The scoring margin the past six weeks, 246-26, has made it look easy. But the games have demanded their own pound of flesh, the toll evidenced in every wince and limp.

"In the SEC you bang hard every week, so you need time to rest up," Belue explained to reporters on Saturday night. "Then we have LSU, and they're going to come in and bang some more."

Ah, the matter of LSU. The 13th-ranked Tigers represent the biggest challenge to Alabama's undefeated season. Les Miles' squad always gives Alabama a hard time, and the last time his team came to Tuscaloosa (2011), it won. With a much improved offense thanks to new coordinator Cam Cameron, get ready for calls of an upset. Zach Mettenberger has progressed quickly into an NFL quarterback and with two of the best receivers in the SEC -- Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. -- to throw the ball to, they''ll be licking their chops to get at Alabama's secondary, which doesn't have much quality depth.

But in Alabama's camp, that's not the focus yet. At least not externally.

"I'm not thinking about that right now," quarterback AJ McCarron said Saturday in his usual no-nonsense manner, mimicking his head coach. "We've got a 24-hour rule and then a week off so I'm not really thinking about who we got next."

Said Saban: "We've got some big challenges and some stiff competition against some teams coming up here. This bye week comes at a pretty good time for us. We have a lot of guys banged up. We could use the rest, and we can use the time to try to help some of our players improve. So that's going to be our focus this week."

Notice the utter avoidance of LSU? The game was on the lips of every fan around Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday night, but it was nowhere to be found in Saban's postgame comments. When he spoke to the media again on Tuesday, he got three-quarters of the way through before LSU entered his consciousness, and even then it was to relive the 2011 game, not to focus on the game ahead of him.

"Just because we don't have a game doesn't mean you change anything about how you think and what we need to do to get better as a team," Saban said.

You're not going to catch this Alabama team looking ahead to LSU. Not even when LSU is the next team on the schedule. In their mind, this week is about recovery and a return to the basics. Saban said they'll spend an extra day on LSU preparation, but he doesn't want to throw the team off its usual schedule or burn them out too quickly, showing them the same plays and schemes too many times over the next two weeks.

Trey DePriest, Alabama's starting inside linebacker, said he didn't think they'd spend any time on LSU this week. Maybe it was a bit of gamesmanship, but he reiterated it, saying they'd go back to "camp rules." Stinson backed him up, adding that there would be "no talk at all" of LSU.

"It's a positive, and it's definitely going to help us out," said veteran defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan, opening up where his teammates hadn't. "LSU's a tough team, and that kind of gives us an advantage to study the opponents more."

Just don't expect to hear much beyond that. Mettenberger and the LSU offense haven't been brought up. Neither has LSU's defense. Right now it's a matter of staying focused on the task at hand, even if that task doesn't involve another football team.

Really, it's Saban's way. When asked how he'd celebrate his birthday this week, he responded bluntly, "Whatever Miss Terry has planned is what I'll be doing."

If he could, he'd blow out his candles in the film room watching practice tape.

His is the kind of singular focus, and that makes Alabama unique. The build up to big games is the same as smaller ones. In fact, you often see a more fired up coaching staff for cupcakes like Georgia State than for "Game of the Century" type contests with LSU. They have to light a fire under their players for some games, but that won't be the case for next Saturday's home game against LSU. The battle lines were drawn well before the start of the season.

So why emphasize the matchups and specifics of the game now? With so many players hurt, why not take the week to rest? Inside the walls of Alabama's football offices, it might be different, but outwardly players aren't anxious for what's next.

"Our bodies need time to get ready for another physical game," said veteran wideout Kevin Norwood. "That's what we're going to do."
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- This is what Alabama football has become. It's no longer a matter of how the top-ranked Crimson Tide will win, but rather who is there to see it happen. The score gets out of hand quickly, the bleachers empty around halftime and Alabama continues its merciless march toward an undefeated season and a return trip to the national championship.

The outcome is routine. The journey's a matter of semantics.

With apologies to Nick Saban, this is where his program is. He might not like seeing fans head home before the game is over, but at some point it's understandable to leave. The way Alabama has demolished opponents lately -- hapless Tennessee being the latest sacrifice -- there's little reason to stick around Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama is so clearly the No. 1 team in the country, it's gotten boring. Why not find a couch, turn on the TV and see who might be worthy of No. 2?

[+] EnlargeKevin Norwood
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesKevin Norwood and Alabama's offense added a few highlight plays in their easy 45-10 win over Tennessee.
Scared Saban's death stare might find them on their way to the exits Saturday, not many fans dropped their red and white shakers to head home early. Only a small fraction of spectators left at halftime, satisfied with what they'd seen after sophomore safety Landon Collins intercepted a Justin Worley pass and returned it 89 yards for a touchdown to go ahead 35-0. The unranked Vols upset then-No. 11 South Carolina Oct. 19, but there would be no such letdown this weekend.

Alabama manhandled rival Tennessee on the way to a 45-10 win to improve to 8-0 on the season. AJ McCarron orchestrated the Alabama offense beautifully, completing 19 of 27 passes for 275 yards and no turnovers. Kevin Norwood led the team with six catches for 112 yards and a touchdown. The defense, meanwhile, gave up only its second touchdown since Sept. 14 against Texas A&M. All told, Alabama has outscored its last six opponents 246-26.

An Alabama fan held up a sign in the stands: "Saban, we'll stay for 60 [minutes] if you stay FOREVER."

"Sounds like a good deal to me," Saban said in response, cracking a smile. "I'm too damn old to go somewhere else and start over."

Saban was in a good mood after the game, clearly pleased with the turnout against Tennessee. He opened his postgame comments by applauding the fans' efforts.

"I know I'm really happy, I know our players are really happy and I hope our fans are really happy," he said. "I certainly appreciate our fans today. They stayed for the game and did a great job of supporting our team. It was a great atmosphere for our players to play in."

Ed Stinson soaked in the final minutes of the game from the sidelines. As Alabama's starting defensive end, he was off the field well before the clock struck zeroes. The familiar tune of "Rocky Top" was drowned out as the crowd celebrated Alabama’s 50th all-time win over Tennessee.

Stinson, a senior, said he's been happy with the way his team has come into its own in recent weeks. Alabama's rough start to the season against Virginia Tech and Texas A&M seems like a thing of the past after winning so handily since then.

"I feel like we're clicking right now," Stinson said. "We're on the right track. Everything is going fluidly."

But Saban, forever the cynic, focused on what's next, looking ahead to the matter of getting better during the bye week.

"You get defined by what you do every week," he said. "It's going to be important for us to focus on the bye week to try to improve, to try to get more players to play winning football.

"We've got some good challenges and some stiff competition against some really good teams coming up here."

Saban stopped short of mentioning specific teams, but his target seemed obvious: 13th-ranked LSU's visit to Tuscaloosa on Nov. 9. When Alabama and LSU have gone head-to-head under Saban, the outcome has most often been defined as classics. And once again, the two teams will be competing for the chance to represent the West in the SEC Championship Game.

And for the first time in a while, we'll see a game in Bryant-Denny Stadium that demands our attention from start to finish.
When asked about the performance of his defense following Alabama's 35-10 win over Virginia Tech in Atlanta Saturday night, Nick Saban had a hint of surprise in his answer.

He was so used to seeing historically good (or close to it) defenses lining up on his side, but with questions surrounding this one entering the 2013 season, he wasn't quite sure what to expect in Week 1.

[+] EnlargeAlabama defenders
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsAlabama's defense didn't allow Logan Thomas and the Virginia Tech offense to get comfortable on Saturday night.
What he got was a dominating performance from a group that faced new schemes with a few new parts of its own.

"I thought we did a really good job defensively," Saban said. "They didn't do anything on offense that we practiced against, all right? We didn't know how they would use their personnel.

"Our players on defense did a fantastic job of adjusting in the game."

All the talk about Alabama's ugly offensive line play has overshadowed a superb defensive outing.

The Hokies, who registered just 212 total yards and averaged 3.6 yards per play, threw some unexpected option at the Crimson Tide defense, but it didn't really faze Saban's players. Outside of a nice 77-yard touchdown run by Trey Edmunds in which guys got out of position and Saban said the secondary "didn't squeeze the ball properly," it was hard for the Hokies to do much of anything against Alabama's defense.

Virginia Tech was 3-of-17 on third down, had just seven first downs and finished with nine three-and-outs on 12 total drives. Future NFL draft pick Logan Thomas was rendered ineffective, too.

While Thomas dealt with sloppy drops from his receivers, Alabama's defense helped him look very pedestrian under the Georgia Dome lights. He completed just 5-of-26 passes for 59 yards and one interception that was returned for a touchdown by safety Vinnie Sunseri. He completed consecutive pass attempts just twice and, according to ESPN Stats & Information, Thomas left the game with a QBR of 1.9, the lowest in the FBS.

Alabama's extremely fast and very aggressive defense flew around the ball and delivered a handful of bone-ratting hits for dramatic effect. With key players to replace and unknowns to account for, Alabama's defense dominated for the most of Saturday night's 25-point win. Take away Edmunds' 77-yard touchdown run, and it's hard to imagine the Hokies seeing the end zone.

What really had to make Saban happy was the pressure Alabama was able to generate up front. This was an area he wanted to see improve from last season, and even though Alabama had just one sack, it was very obvious that Thomas was uncomfortable all night. Defensive lineman Ed Stinson even led the team with eight tackles.

Fellow lineman Jeoffrey Pagan said he felt the defense wanted to put the game on its back from the start. With the offense sputtering most of the time, the defense got that exact opportunity and didn't disappoint.

"Somebody's got to [step up]," Pagan said. "If it's not the offense, then it's the defense, and if it's not defense, it has to be special teams. They came up with two touchdowns, and the defense came up with one. That's a game-changer."

This group was by no means perfect, but it was a solid start to a very long season. The stats were impressive, but it was the on-field execution that was so striking. Even with inexperience taking the field at various positions, the defense was still able to adjust and adapt. The foreign schemes Virginia Tech thew at this crew didn't startle it, which had Saban gushing as only he knows how to gush over his defense.

"I think our players on defense understand the system, they kind of believe in it," he said. "They have enough experience out there that they can adapt to things that we haven't played or practiced against."

Alabama 10: Week 1 power rankings

September, 1, 2013
Vinnie Sunseri Paul Abell/USA TODAY SportsVinnie Sunseri started over Landon Collins and had a big game in Alabama's season-opening victory.

ATLANTA -- The Alabama 10 power rankings are back, with a look at who stood out in the Crimson Tide's season-opening 35-10 victory over Virginia Tech on Saturday night in Atlanta.

1. Christion Jones: Alabama wasn't great against Virginia Tech, but Jones was. What he accomplished was nothing short of historic, returning a punt, a kickoff and making a reception for a touchdown. He had more total yards (256) than either offense on Saturday night.

2. Vinnie Sunseri: All offseason he must have heard fans asking how Sunseri could start at safety over Landon Collins. Why would the supposedly less athletic option win out? We saw why against Virginia Tech when Sunseri showed his nose for the ball, intercepting a pass early and returning it 38 yards for a touchdown. He also finished fifth on the team with four tackles, again brining the complete package to the table.

3. Ed Stinson: Alabama's defensive line as a whole should get a gold star for the pressure it brought on Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas. But Stinson, the Tide's senior defensive end, played the best, leading the team with eight tackles. He only registered half a sack, but he defended the read-option beautifully and never broke containment.

4. C.J. Mosley: It was weird to look at a stat sheet and not see Mosley atop the defense in tackles, but that was the case on Saturday night. Mosley was mostly quiet on the football field against Virginia Tech. But quiet is his default setting. He wasn't first in tackles, but he was second on the team with seven stops. And more than anything his success is reflected in the defense's ability to hold the Hokies to a paltry 59 yards passing and 153 yards rushing.

5. Landon Collins: He didn't win the starting job at safety, but Collins showed no signs of being upset with the decision in the season opener. The talented sophomore played a good bit on defense off the bench, though his real impact came on special teams, where he was a one-man wrecking ball, keeping Virginia Tech's highly touted return game in check with five key tackles.

6. John Fulton: Fulton came into the season with something to prove, and on Saturday night he played like it. Chip firmly on his shoulder, Fulton played lockdown defense against Virginia Tech, helping hold Thomas to 59 yards passing. He got physical, too, finishing fourth on the team in tackles, one coming behind the line of scrimmage when he read run and attacked the tailback.

7. T.J. Yeldon: The usual running lanes weren't there, but Yeldon made the best of it, rushing for a respectable 75 yards and a touchdown. Give credit to Virginia Tech's swarming defense for keeping Yeldon in check. Bud Foster's group came to Atlanta determined to stop the running game, loading up with nine men in the box early and often.

8. Adrian Hubbard: Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart had to calm down an irate Hubbard on the sideline once during the game. Why? Because Virginia Tech grabbed his face mask and robbed him of a chance to stop the quarterback. The Hokies were doing anything and everything to slow Alabama's top pass-rusher on Saturday night. Hubbard came away with just a half-tackle for loss, but his impact was much greater.

9. Amari Cooper: It was unusual to see Cooper drop the football, but that's just what he did against Virginia Tech, missing a few well thrown balls from AJ McCarron. Whether that was a result of rust or the lingering effects of some nagging injuries is anyone's guess. But Alabama's go-to receiver still produced when his game wasn't at its best, hauling in a team leading four receptions.

10. Cody Mandell: When Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer previewed the Alabama matchup on the Monday before the game, he mentioned Mandell by name, marveling at his 44.3-yards-per-punt average from a season ago. On Saturday night, Mandell did him one better, averaging 46.4 yards per punt on nine attempts. Two were fair caught, four landed inside the 20-yard line and four went for more than 50 yards.
Alabama Crimson Tide Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesAlabama's players can look at the Georgia Dome as another home field. The Crimson Tide have won three big games in a row in Atlanta, including the SEC championship in 2012.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The way Brian Vogler looks at it, Alabama is the home team and Virginia Tech will be its guests when the teams meet in the Georgia Dome on Saturday night. Though there's been no official designation for who's the home team in the neutral site game, Alabama's junior tight end feels his team has earned the right to call the stadium in the heart of Atlanta home.

"What it means to play in there," he said, "for us, it's the SEC championship. You sort of take pride as an SEC team having an ACC team you want to defend what is essentially your home. Just the pride of playing in the Georgia Dome, for us, as you could say reigning SEC champions, so I guess you could say it's our home."

Crimson Countdown: Dakota Ball 

July, 30, 2013
During the summer, TideNation will analyze each of the scholarship players on the Alabama roster -- excluding the Tide's 2013 recruiting class -- in our Crimson Countdown series. Starting with No. 1 Dee Hart, we will go through the roster numerically, finishing with No. 99 Brandon Ivory.

No. 94 Dakota Ball
Redshirt freshman defensive lineman

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Crimson Countdown: Ed Stinson 

July, 2, 2013
During the summer, TideNation will analyze each of the scholarship players on the Alabama roster -- excluding the Tide's 2013 recruiting class -- in our Crimson Countdown series. Starting with No. 1 Dee Hart, we will go through the roster numerically, finishing with No. 99 Brandon Ivory.

No. 49 Ed Stinson
Senior defensive lineman

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Editor's note: TideNation will use this week to look at the four major positions on the football field and how their outlook has changed after spring practice. Today we examine the front seven:

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Alabama 10: Spring wrap

April, 21, 2013
With spring practice complete and fall camp right around the corner, TideNation's power rankings return with a look at the top 10 Alabama players heading into the offseason.

1. QB AJ McCarron (Last ranking: 2): After three trips to the White House, there's not much that fazes McCarron. Even after two interceptions in the A-Day game, there wasn't an ounce of concern. "None," in his words, and at this point in his career there shouldn't be. His championship rings, his record-breaking stats and his talent speak for themselves. There might not be a more decorated quarterback in school history by the time he hangs it up.

[+] EnlargeC.J. Mosley
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesDespite an injury he has battled all spring, inside linebacker C.J. Mosley had no trouble making tackles and causing a fumble Saturday.
2. ILB C.J. Mosley (3): It's one thing for a quarterback to play with a black jersey. It's another for a linebacker to do it. But a bum shoulder wouldn't slow Mosley down. The rising senior and leading tackler from last season played all spring with a shoulder harness and a no-contact jersey, yet he found a way to contribute. On Saturday, Mosley finished with a team-high nine "tackles" and, more impressively, caused and recovered a fumble on the same play.

3. LT Cyrus Kouandjio (NR): He's the rock, the anchor to a line replacing three starters. And if you're going to start over, it's nice to have a franchise left tackle like Kouandjio. The rising junior enters the season as arguably the most prized offensive linemen in the SEC. It's only a matter of time before he declares for the NFL draft and is taken near the top of the first round, so Tide fans should enjoy him while they can.

4. RB T.J. Yeldon (7): It's almost as though Yeldon was an afterthought as many fans clung to the untapped potential of early enrollee Derrick Henry this spring. It's typical of a talented team, though, as Yeldon, only a sophomore, is already taken for granted. It was only a year ago that he was the energizing rookie making fans forget about incumbent Eddie Lacy. Unoticed or not, Yeldon is a feature back worth his weight in gold.

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- There's a healthy dose of expectations and optimism surrounding the new-look Alabama defensive line this spring. Like its counterpart on offense, so much has changed in the trenches from a season ago: nose guard Jesse Williams is gone, along with starting defensive end Damion Square and former top reserve Quinton Dial.

[+] EnlargeJeoffrey Pagan
AP Photo/Dave MartinJeoffrey Pagan is hoping to provide Alabama a pass rush that it lacked at times last season.
But unlike the offensive line, which is seeking to replace three All-SEC starters, there's no hint of an expected of a drop off in production from the defensive front. In fact, it's quite the opposite. If there is an area on defense that's in need of the most improvement, it might be the defensive line, particularly the pass rush.

Alabama failed to finish in the top 25 nationally in sacks or tackles for loss last season, trailing eight other SEC teams in negative plays. With underclassmen such as Jeoffrey Pagan and Xzavier Dickson a year older, the hope is that those numbers will improve.

"We've got some really talented guys and guys that work really hard on the defensive line, Pagan especially," Alabama tight end/H-back Harrison Jones said. "I see those guys really stepping up and filling the spots that were left open last year from guys leaving the team, big team leaders like Damion Square and Jesse Williams and guys like Quinton Dial.

"That's something that's going to be a big part of our team this year the defensive line stepping up and I feel like they're doing a good job of that so far."

Pagan, who has played as a reserve his first two seasons, admits the pass rush "struggled a little bit" in 2012. He said he welcomes the task of improving upon it as well as the personal responsibility of rising up the depth chart to a possible starting role. He added on five pounds from a year ago and wants to make his game more well-rounded, stopping the run and the pass.

"I've gotten better," he explained. "I've grown as a person, I've learned from great players."

Pagan credited Square for teaching him what coaches couldn't -- the intangibles of the game. And now that Square is gone, it's fallen on the broad shoulders of Ed Stinson to captain the defensive line. Stinson, the lone returning starter on the line, added 10 pounds to his already stocky frame and has developed into a leader among his peers.

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Editor's note: The season is over and the Alabama Crimson Tide are national champions yet again. But what happens next? TideNation examines the most pressing storylines of the offseason as the Tide gear up for another title defense.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- There's a lot of good that could be said about the Alabama defense of 2012. It was strikingly efficient and balanced. The Tide finished No. 1 against the run nationally and No. 7 against the pass. They gave up the fewest points per game in the country and put a bow on it all with a dominating performance against Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship.

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Editor's note: The season is over and the Alabama Crimson Tide are national champions yet again. But what happens next? TideNation examines the most pressing storylines of the offseason as the Tide gear up for another title defense.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The heart of the defensive line is gone. So is its vocal leader. Its best backup is leaving, too. Three of the top four defensive linemen played their final game with the Alabama Crimson Tide on Monday night in South Florida.

This week marked the beginning of a new era on the defensive front at Alabama. Nose guard Jesse Williams and defensive ends Damion Square and Quinton Dial are all awaiting their heirs. The unit that garners little of the credit yet bears the brunt of the responsibility on defense is getting a makeover.

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Scout's Take: Atlanta Opening Regional
National recruiting analyst Gerry Hamilton joins ESPN's Phil Murphy to discuss top performers from the Nike's The Opening regional camp in Atlanta.