Defensive group: Alabama secondary
The buzz: Alabama lost nine full-time defensive starters, but the front seven in the Tide’s 3-4 scheme should be quite good. E Marcell Dareus led the Tide in sacks last season despite being a reserve, and LB Dont’a Hightower has “All-America” written all over him despite missing all 10 games last season with a blown-out knee. The secondary is where the Tide could struggle a bit, even with coach Nick Saban’s hands-on approach with his defensive backs. SS Mark Barron is another potential All-American, giving the Tide stars at each level of the defense. But the other three spots will have new starters. Big things — actually, huge things — are expected from sophomore CB Dre Kirkpatrick, but first-year starting cornerbacks in leagues as deep as the SEC have a tendency to get burned a few times during a season. It’s one thing for a new lineman or linebacker to get burned; it can result in a 7- or 8-yard gain. But a burned corner can mean six points for an opponent. Sophomore B.J. Scott, junior Phelon Jones (an LSU transfer) and true freshmen John Fulton and DeMarcus Milliner are others in line for a lot of playing time. All four are talented, but that’s a lot of inexperienced corners.