Will Alabama improve its pass rush in 2015?
The Alabama defense has been predicated on fundamental, hard-nosed football that beats up the offense at the point of attack. But given their recent struggles (by Alabama’s standards, at least) against spread passing offenses, is it time to change things up?
Alabama’s outside linebackers in its hybrid 3-4 scheme have generally been bigger power players capable of setting the edge in the running game, with their ability to create pressure off the edge usually a secondary skill set (think Courtney Upshaw, Adrian Hubbard, Xzavier Dickson). Upshaw is currently a one-dimensional run-stopper with the Baltimore Ravens, Dickson brought a similar skill set to Alabama’s defense in his 568 snaps last year (86.1 run rating, 78.0 pass rush).
The 2015 roster looks similar with big outside linebackers Ryan Anderson (85.3 run rating) and Denzel Devall (83.1 run rating) in line to see the early-down snaps. But if the Tide are looking to add more athleticism to their edge rush, they have options on the roster in OLBs Tim Williams and Rashaan Evans – both of whom flashed enormous potential in their limited opportunities last season.
Of course, sample-size caveats apply, but Williams picked up 13 pressures on just 48 rushes (one sack, one hit, 11 hurries) while Evans notched 10 on his 44 rushes (one sack, one hit, eight hurries). Williams and Evans are undersized by Alabama outside linebacker standards at 230 and 225 pounds, respectively, but they have the speed to threaten the edge unlike anyone on the current roster — and they may be the most explosive pass-rushers of Nick Saban’s tenure.
If Saban does decide to throw some snaps to the one-dimensional pass-rushers over his classic run-stopping edge players, he may have just what he needs to slow down opposing passing games and take the pressure off of a secondary that hasn’t always lived up to expectations the last two seasons.