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Defensive players to the forefront

With spring drills set to get underway this afternoon at Alabama, here are six members of the Crimson Tide defense who will look to step to the forefront.

With Courtney Upshaw moving on to the NFL, Dickson will be counted on to rush the passer.

OLB Xzavier Dickson
2011 season: Played in seven games as a true freshman, posting three stops, including 1.5 tackles for loss.
What he was asked to do a season ago: Part-time special teamer and provided depth at the jack linebacker position.
What he'll be asked to do in 2012: Between Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower, the Alabama defense will be looking to replace 13.5 sacks. That's where Dickson and fellow sophomore Adrian Hubbard come in. And if either or both struggle, true freshman Ryan Anderson could factor earlier than you might expect.

CB Travell Dixon
2011 season: Recorded 39 tackles, four interceptions and four pass breakups at Eastern Arizona College.
What he was asked to do a season ago: Dixon played a good bit of man coverage in JUCO. Now we'll find out how quickly he can absorb Alabama's zone concepts.
What he'll be asked to do in 2012: Dixon worked at left corner at EAC, the same spot Dre Kirkpatrick held down each of the last two seasons for the Crimson Tide. Meanwhile, fellow junior college transfer Deion Belue worked at right corner at Northeast Mississippi Community College, the same spot Dequan Menzie held down in the base defense each of the last two seasons. While neither will have jobs handed to them, UA doesn't go JUCO for reserves.

ILB Nico Johnson
2011 season: Made seven starts, posting 47 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and an interception.
What he was asked to do a season ago: Starter at weakside linebacker in the base defense and also saw time in the Crimson Tide's nickel package.
What he'll be asked to do in 2012: Johnson has made defensive calls in the past so it won't come as a surprise if the senior takes on the responsibility on a full-time basis in the fall. The question is, will he be an every down option or will his participation be based on the defensive package UA is in at a particular time?

CB Dee Milliner
2011 season: Led all UA defenders with three interceptions and his 12 passes defended placed him in a tie with Menzie for the team lead.
What he was asked to do a season ago: Stepped in at right corner when Alabama went to its nickel and dime packages.
What he'll be asked to do in 2012: With Menzie leaving the star spot vacant, Milliner's versatility will be extremely valuable to the secondary. Like Menzie, the junior is capable of playing corner or sliding inside to star when the Crimson Tide goes with five or six defensive backs.

S Vinnie Sunseri
2011 season: Played in all 13 games, racking up 31 tackles and a fumble recovery.
What he was asked to do a season ago: Quickly established himself as a special teams standout before ending the season as UA's No. 3 safety.
What he'll be asked to do in 2012: It's a given Sunseri will have role in the secondary, it's just a matter of how the true sophomore will be used. At a minimum, expect Sunseri to be a part of the Crimson Tide's sub packages, either at safety or money in the dime look.

DE Jesse Williams
2011 season: In starting all 13 games, the junior college transfer recorded 24 tackles, four tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries.
What he was asked to do a season ago: Showed signs of evolving from lunch pail run stuffer to occasional playmaker. Size and strength were difficult for opposing offensive linemen to handle, which made life a good bit easier for Crimson Tide linebackers
What he'll be asked to do in 2012: The senior's teammates and coaches knew how important he was to the defense a season ago. Assuming his development continues at the rate we witnessed last season, the rest of the country will soon follow suit. While he's most effective as a five-technique end or three-technique tackle, Williams is also capable of providing help on the nose if needed.

Also see:
Offensive players to the forefront

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