TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — There was much more to draw from Alabama’s A-Day scrimmage than just the quarterback.
One big-picture takeaway was this: The Crimson Tide’s defense is well ahead of the offense.
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Yes, while the White team—which was made up of the first-team offense—did come away with the win over the Crimson team, from top to bottom, Alabama’s defense is much deeper and more polished than its offense.
While the offense gained 301 yards on the day, it also surrendered three turnovers, including an interception returned for a touchdown. The second-team offense, meanwhile, was held to just 141 yards and threw four interceptions.
That’s why Alabama’s defense will be counted on to carry this team for a lot of the 2015 season.
Last year, we saw somewhat of a shift in overall philosophy.
Lane Kiffin came in and revamped this offense, setting program records for plays run, yards gained and yards per game.
In a year when Alabama had the worst showing of the Saban era on defense, its offense was able to take over and win the shootout-type games, which Crimson Tide fans were much more used to seeing from Thursday-night Big 12 games instead of right on their own home turf.
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Most notably, Alabama gave up 630 yards and 44 points against Auburn in Bryant-Denny but was able to put up 539 yards and 55 points of its own in a wild Iron Bowl for the ages.
It’s hard to expect that kind of performance over a whole season from this Alabama offense.
The Crimson Tide lost nine starters from that group, and while a lot of those holes appear to have been filled, questions still linger about how effective the unit can be, especially compared to last year.
The offensive line is just about settled, while ArDarius Stewart and Robert Foster should make a nice tandem at wide receiver. At running back, Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake will be the top two guys, but a third running back has yet to emerge, which could determine just how successful that position can be for Alabama.
The big question, of course, is under center, where no one quarterback has exactly exuded confidence so far.
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Jake Coker hasn’t shown that he can consistently lead the offense while taking care of the ball, and it’s unclear whether Saban would hand the reins to a young player like David Cornwell.
Alabama may be breaking in another transfer quarterback, should Braxton Miller decide to move from Columbus to Tuscaloosa for a year.
On defense, it’s a different story. Alabama returns most of its cast, which should be deeper at most positions after a year of growth from young players.
The defensive line will be as loaded as it’s ever been, able to go six or seven deep depending on the situation. It has two solid, young middle linebackers to play next to Reggie Ragland and a wealth of edge-rushers on the outside. And in the secondary, some of the main culprits from last year’s uncharacteristically weak unit have another year under their belts and have shown major signs of improvement.
Which will be Alabama’s strength in 2015?
The question, though, will be whether Saban, defensive coordinator Kirby Smart and the rest of the defensive coaching staff can put all of those pieces together to reduce the big plays and third-down conversions given up last year.
They showed that they can be a stout group at A-Day, at least against their own, still-a-work-in-progress offense.
And while the offense continues to come along, Alabama needs its defense to once again be the strength of its team to have success this season.
Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes and reporting were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.