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Column: D demands no drop-off

TUSCALOOSA _ On paper, it appears to be an extremely daunting task.

Can coordinator Kirby Smart and linebacker C.J. Mosley help Alabama have the No. 1 defense again?

The University of Alabama defense has to be retooled. Gone are the two captains, the three leading tacklers, all but one of the secondary starters and the guy who for 54 games helped clogged the middle.

Four former Crimson Tide defenders have a chance to be selected in the first round of next month’s draft, while more than half of the front-seven players who made it so tough to run against Alabama need to be replaced.

Yeah, that’s not easy, but the process is already underway.

“We’ve got to have that communication,” linebacker C.J. Mosley said Wednesday evening. “The younger guys coming in now are doing good so far learning the defense, but it’s going to get complicated. It’s going to get harder. That’s why we’ve got spring and summer and fall camp to get ready out there, but once the defense gets together and has that communication like last year’s team had we can be as good or greater.”

Wait, did you say greater?

“More great,” Mosley responded. “Yeah.”

Although it’s hard to imagine that Alabama’s 2012 defense could eventually be on par with last season’s, which may have been the best ever, Mosley’s declaration was telling in that even though so many players have moved on the expectations and goals have not.

Sure there’s no Mark Barron, Josh Chapman, Dont’a Hightower, Dre Kirkpatrick, DeQuan Menzie or Courtney Upshaw, but last year there was no Marcell Dareus, and the season before no Rolando McClain, etc. Every team in all sports forges its own identity each year, and the 2012 Crimson Tide will be no exception.

Damion Square likes the look of the big, athletic defensive line.

“At ’Bama we have one identity, and that’s to win, win championships,” defensive lineman Damion Square said. “That’s what we practice for. We come to practice every day to practice like ’Bama practices and we believe we can beat (those) on the other side of the ball and beat anybody in the country.”

However, one of the consequences of winning a national championship is that the following team is always compared to its predecessor, perhaps unfairly, just like the 2010 Crimson Tide was to 2009.

With this title Alabama led the nation in pass-efficiency defense (83.69 rating), pass defense (111.46 yards per game), rushing defense (72.15), scoring defense (8.15 points), and total defense (183.62 yards per game) – in addition to third-down defense, red-zone defense, first downs allowed and three-and-outs.

It also topped each category convincingly.

Consider this as well, of the 47 running backs who had 1,000-yard rushing seasons, Alabama faced five: Michael Dyer of Auburn, Silas Redd of Penn State, Zac Stacy of Vanderbilt, Vic Ballard of Mississippi State, and Lance Dunbar of North Texas.

Combined, they had 65 carries for 154 yards against the Crimson Tide, for an average of 30.8 yards, and one touchdown.

Against everyone else they had 1,084 carries for 5,826 yards, or a 100.4 average, and 50 TDs.

But here are two early observations already this spring:

Could Alphonse Taylor be one of the new players to make an immediate contribution.

1) The defensive line is big and deep.

Right now it looks like Square, Jesse Williams and Quinton Dial are leading the drills, but then there are guys like LaMichael Fanning, Brandon Ivory, Alphonse Taylor

“Yeah, we are very big. We are very big, very athletic, though,” Square said.

“This group here, these guys, you can’t tell that they were just in high school last semester. These guys are some great fellas, some big, massive guys, in the weight room they’re strong, they’ve very quick and they can practice at our tempo very easily.”

2) There’s more competition – significantly more than the 2010 team enjoyed.

Granted, you just don't replace a player like Barron, but how many starting defensive positions are set in stone? Probably not many, which considering the talent Nick Saban has been accumulating should give pause to anyone thinking there will automatically be a dramatic drop-off in the fall. Many of those who will be stepping in already have significant playing time and the rest have a whole lot of potential.

“At Alabama, there’s no one who’s not good, so they’ve got to step up and do their job,” Mosley said. “That’s why they’re here.”

Sure, but maybe as good as last year? That’s really saying something, even if it is only March and we have a long way to go.

“You never know,” Mosley said. “Anything can happen.”

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