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April 14, 2012

New faces stand out on defense

TUSCALOOSA | There was no crimson No. 41 chasing down quarterbacks, no oversized No. 30 in the middle stuffing the run and no streaking No. 4 delivering a bone-jarring hit to a receiver or back on Saturday afternoon during A-Day in Bryant-Denny Stadium.

No, Courtney Upshaw, Dont'a Hightower and Mark Barron are gone from the Crimson Tide's defense. But a lot of new faces, and new numbers, showed they were capable of carrying on the tradition of Alabama's stingy defensive ways.

Of note, sophomore Jack linebacker Adrian Hubbard, No. 42, used his 6-foot-6, 252-pound frame to frustrate and, at times, dominate the first-team (Crimson) offense. Hubbard finished with seven tackles (six solo, one assist), three sacks and four tackles for loss in the White team's 24-15 win. He was the Dwight Stephenson lineman of the game for his A-Day performance and was given the Woodrow Lowe linebacker award for his play throughout the spring.

"There is room for improvement, but I did pretty good," Hubbard said.

"You never know. You can't ever be satisfied. It's a process. I'm just trying to do my best to learn different positions, and I'm trying to improve and better my knowledge of Coach (Nick) Saban's defense. It's pretty hard to do when you're trying to learn five positions like I am."

Other leading tacklers included Ed Stinson (6), Vinnie Sunseri (5) and John Fulton (4) - all nonstarters on the 2011 team. Hubbard said he and his defensive mates are trying to make their own mark.

"We're not trying to fill any shoes," Hubbard said. "Everybody is just doing what you're told to do and execute your job, and then you'll make your own footprints."

The first-team defense allowed 304 yards through the air but managed to intercept Crimson starting quarterback AJ McCarron three times.

Sunseri was joined in the defensive backfield by Fulton and junior college transfer Deion Belue. Belue had three tackles and two pass breakups. How good the 2012 UA defense ultimately is depends largely on how productive the two cornerbacks, who replace Dre Kirkpatrick and DeQuan Menzie, are.

Saban said Fulton and Belue have made progress this spring.

"Deion has had a really good spring. He's a really good cover guy," Saban said. "I think sometimes he's not sure exactly what he's doing. We definitely need to get him to be a little more physical in run support and some of those things, but I think he's going to be a good player.

"John had a good spring. (He's) starting to show that he's more confident in what he's doing. (He) knows what to do out there, and now it's just a matter of doing it with some kind of consistency, but I didn't think that he did anything particularly bad today. I know John gave up one big play, (but) he wasn't in bad position. It was a well-thrown, caught ball. I didn't see anything glaring from either one of them."

One of the familiar faces in the Alabama defense, Jesse Williams, said he's impressed with how quickly this team has come together.

"We had a lot of new guys come in at crucial positions, and I think the way we jelled and the older guys picking up the younger guys was really good," Williams said. "I think we can be as good as the last (defense). We lost a lot of good players, but we have different sort of players. We're a different sort of team. We definitely have a lot of speed."

Reach Aaron Suttles at Aaron@TideSports.com or at 205-722-0229.

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