Alabama Football: 2014 Defensive Line Could Be Best in Nick Saban's Tenure

Marc Torrence@marctorrenceAlabama Lead WriterFebruary 17, 2014

November 3, 2012; Baton Rouge, LA, USA;  The LSU Tigers offense lines up against the Alabama Crimson Tide defense during the first half of a game at Tiger Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

TUSCALOOSA, Ala.—Nick Saban doesn’t like to talk about sacks. He’s more into “affecting the quarterback”—chasing him around and making him uncomfortable can sometimes be just as valuable as a sack.

But however you slice it, the lack of pressure imposed on opposing quarterbacks in 2013 had a trickle down effect to the rest of the Alabama defense.

And it’s clear that in years when Alabama affects the quarterback—either with sacks or quarterback hurries—the Tide has had the most success across the board.

Alabama affecting the quarterback under Nick Saban
YearSacksQuarterback hurriesPassing yards per gameSeason notes
20072449221.3Saban's first season at Alabama
20082554189.4Undefeated regular season
20093179166.0Undefeated, BCS national champions
20102752176.2Three regular season losses
20113035111.5One-loss regular season, BCS national champions
20123546173.6One-loss regular season, SEC champions, BCS national champions
20132240180.3One-loss regular season, Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma

Luckily for Alabama, help is very much on the way.

Three of Alabama’s top four sacks leaders return for 2014, with one being just a freshman. The Crimson Tide has a couple of other young defenders ready to take the next step as well as a bevy of incoming talent in the 2014 recruiting class that could see the field and bolster the pass rush.

Gone are starting defensive ends Jeoffrey Pagan and Ed Stinson. The pair combined for just 3.5 sacks last season and were more space-eating defensive ends, rather than the smaller, speed rushers that Saban is recruiting to counteract spread offenses.

While he isn’t exactly small, 6'4", 320-lb. freshman A’Shawn Robinson was the standout of not just his class but the entire defensive line last season. He led the team with 5.5 sacks and finished second with five additional quarterback hurries.

Oct 19, 2013; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks quarterback Brandon Allen (10) scrambles under pressure from Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Jonathan Allen (93) during the first quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-U
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

“A’Shawn has a strength that I’ve never seen anything like I’ve ever seen,” Pagan said before the Sugar Bowl. “He’s one of the strongest guys I’ve ever met and he’s just a freshman. He’s smart and he’s just an animal out there."

Fellow freshman Jonathan Allen similarly found himself with regular playing time. The former 5-star defensive end recorded half a sack and three tackles for a loss and will only get better.

“Me and A’Shawn, we’re very close on and off the field,” Allen said after the Sugar Bowl. “We just made up our minds that we wanted to be great. And if you want to be great you have to work hard all the time. And we were committed to us.”

The freshmen will be joined by JUCO transfers Jarran Reed and D.J. Pettway that figure to be in the mix right away.

Reed can play nose tackle, a position that didn’t get the dominant play in 2013 that Alabama is used to seeing. Pettway will add size and speed on the edge.

Two of Alabama’s six 5-star recruits in the 2014 class are pass-rushers.

Da’Shawn Hand will likely play defensive end and was a terror for opposing offenses at Woodbridge High School racking up 16 sacks in his last two seasons, according to his 247Sports profile.

The biggest steal of the class is an edge-rusher who is slotted to play “Jack” linebacker in coach Nick Saban’s 3-4. Rashaan Evans, from Auburn, Ala., recorded a staggering 43 tackles for a loss, including 17.5 sacks, as a senior at Auburn High School, according to his 247Sports profile.

So Saban and Co. will have plenty of options to choose from to bump up its production in the pass-rushing department.

No matter how you look at it, the pass rush wasn't up to standards in 2013, however, the outlook is bright for 2014.