TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Back when Nick Saban was still an assistant coach, he once was caught in a conundrum that he still remembers to this day.
Then just a defensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns in the early 1990s, the team brought in specialists one year ahead of the NFL Draft to administer TAP tests, or Troutwine Athletic Profile, to figure out the players’ “psychological disposition.”
But for the top nine defensive players in the draft, the results didn’t come back the way Saban would have liked.
It’s why Saban, instead, likes his defenses “hateful,” as he described them after holding LSU to just 125 yards of total offense in a 10-0 shutout win last week.
Saban further spoke of his desired type of defense earlier this week after he was asked what he meant by his unique description of it.
“We want them to be aggressive, we want them to be competitive, not in the real world but at least on the football field,” Saban said. “These characteristics are important in defensive players. We were evaluating these guys as to what they’re like in Sunday school, which may not be the same.
“We want a guy that’s going to go hit a guy that weighs 250 pounds, running downhill as hard as he can hit him.”
For Saban, he did figure it out. In his first season with the Browns in 1991, the defense was ranked 14th in total defense; by his last, in 1994, it was his first both in total and scoring defense.
“I think to be a good competitor you’ve got to have a little stuff in your neck, if you know what that means,” Saban said. “Even though we have an expectation for our guys to represent themselves off the field in a first-class manner, I think good defensive football players all have a competitive edge about them that requires a lot of mental toughness, a lot of physical toughness and they’ve got to have a lot of resiliency.”
After its defensive performance against the Tigers, the entire Alabama defensive unit was named the Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week – only the second time the award has been presented to an entire unit.
Alabama outside linebacker Ryan Anderson, who has 5.5 sacks so far this season, offered a further explanation for what it means to be “hateful.”
“It’s what defenders do,” outside linebacker Ryan Anderson said. “Mostly, we are hateful guys. We hate everybody on the other team and everybody lined up across from us. We want to try to kill you.”
Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey also agreed on the assessment for what can be an intimidating group as one of the nation’s top defenses annually under Saban.
“That front seven is very hateful,” Humphrey said. “I usually just try to hold my own back there, but I think that front seven definitely has some hateful guys for sure.”
Coming from the other side of the ball, running back Damien Harris has experience on how daunting the Alabama defense can be for its opponents.
“Take your pick. I mean, honestly, take your pick,” Harris said. “We got guys like Reuben (Foster), Jon(athan) Allen, Da’Ron (Payne). Even our secondary – Minkah (Fitzpatrick), Marlon (Humphrey). Those guys, they come lay the wood. So it’s kind of like pick your poison.”
Alabama currently ranks second in total defense (257.9 yards per game), first in rushing defense (66.0 yards per game) and 19th in passing defense (191.9 yards per game). The Crimson Tide also is second in scoring defense (13.2 points per game) and first in sacks (37).
Alabama returns home to play Mississippi State this Saturday. Nearly all of the Bulldogs offense goes through quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, who is one of only three quarterbacks nationally to rank among the top 35 rushers with 839 yards to go along with eight touchdowns.
(You can follow Kassidy Hill on Twitter @KassidyGHill)
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