Take Two: Tide's breakthrough players

April, 5, 2012
4/05/12
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SEC bloggers Chris Low and Edward Aschoff will occasionally give their takes on a question facing the league or certain teams in the league. They'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same opinions. We'll let you decide who's right.

Today's Take Two topic: Other than obvious stars such as Barrett Jones and AJ McCarron, who's the player that needs to come through for Alabama next season if the Crimson Tide are going to become the first team since Nebraska in 1994 and 1995 to win outright national championships in back-to-back seasons?

Take 1: Edward Aschoff

Jesse Williams is a guy who I think has to have a big season in 2012 in order for Alabama to repeat this fall. Now that Josh Chapman is gone at nose guard, Williams is moving over from defensive end to follow in Chapman's big footsteps. It won't be easy when you consider how effective Chapman was last season, even while basically playing on one knee. He absolutely clogged the middle of the line and was a key cog in the Crimson Tide's suffocating run defense.

[+] EnlargeRob Bolden
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesAlabama needs Jesse Williams, right, to stuff the run and get to the QB from his new spot at nose guard.
Chapman was a big reason Alabama ranked first nationally in rush defense last season, giving up only 72 yards a game and 2.4 yards per rush. Alabama's defense will go through some growing pains this season. But if the Tide can control things up front, it will go a long way toward protecting that younger secondary. While Williams isn't built like Chapman, he's big enough -- and mean enough -- to clog up the middle just like Chapman. He's 6-foot-4 and weighs 320 pounds, but he's also very athletic, so he won't just be relied on against the run. He'll also be asked to get after the quarterback.

Remember, Williams played tackle when Alabama went to a four-man front last year, so playing inside isn't unfamiliar territory for him. He's likely to get time on the edge again as well, so his versatility will really help Alabama. Getting pressure on opposing backfields will be key for this Tide defense, so the coaches are expecting a lot from Williams. Everything starts up front in the SEC, and Williams' performance could determine a lot for Alabama's defense this fall.

Take 2: Chris Low

The interior of the defensive line is always a good place to start when you’re retooling a defense, and there’s no doubt that Josh Chapman will be sorely missed. The guy was a rock in the middle and played more than half the season with a torn ACL in his left knee. So I understand, Edward, how you could go with Jesse Williams, especially with Williams sliding over from end to nose guard this spring in the Crimson Tide’s 3-4 scheme. But I’m picking sophomore Adrian Hubbard as that under-the-radar guy who needs to come through because I think he has everything it takes to become a premier playmaker on defense next season.

Let’s face it. When you’re losing the likes of Courtney Upshaw, Dont’a Hightower, Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick, DeQuan Menzie and Chapman on defense, new playmakers don’t just magically appear -- even for a team that has recruited as well as Alabama has. The 6-6 Hubbard, who looked more like a basketball player when he arrived at Alabama, is now pushing 250 pounds. He was listed at 237 last season. Upshaw was that finisher for the Tide from his Jack linebacker position. He was the guy who made most of the game-changing plays on Alabama’s defense. Hubbard is poised to be that guy in 2012, and the Crimson Tide could be relying on him to harass the opposing quarterback more than ever before.

Much like 2010, Alabama will be inexperienced in the secondary next season with three of the four starters departing. It remains to be seen if the Crimson Tide can match up at cornerback the way they did a year ago. Moreover, when you’re plugging new players into the defensive backfield, there are always going to be growing pains. Remember the mental errors that plagued the Tide in the secondary in 2010? The best way to cover up those errors and help a secondary find its way while players learn on the job is to keep the opposing quarterback running for his life. That’s where Hubbard comes in. He’s had an excellent spring and will be counted on to fill Upshaw’s role next season. According to Upshaw, Hubbard will do more than just fill it. Upshaw as much as guaranteed last season that Hubbard would be a dominant player before his time was up at Alabama. That time is now.

Chris Low | email

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