One area of difficulty identified early on by head coach Nick Saban when he arrived at Alabama was the lack of depth or experience at defensive tackle. Having lost the three top players at the position from last season to graduation, Saban entered his new job faced with the difficult prospect of finding a suitable playmaker to take over one the most crucial positions on the defense.
"It's where the whole defense starts," said sophomore Lorenzo Washington. "The nose tackle is the anchor of the defensive line. If you do your job there it's going to make everyone else's job easier but if you don't do your job it messes everything up."
Washington would likely have spent the spring as one of the top candidates for the job at nose tackle if not for a torn pectoral muscle he suffered during winter workouts that has kept him almost completely sidelined since the start of spring practice.
With both Washington and sophomore Byron Walton limited in the spring due to injuries, Saban found himself desperately in need of a talented athlete to step up and take on the role for the spring. Saban feels he may have found that player in former offensive guard Brian Motley who after moving to the defense just weeks ago led the team in tackles during the Tide's first spring scrimmage.
"They came to me the day before spring practice started," Motley said. "I told (Coach Saban) I didn't have a problem with it. I'm a team player and whatever I can do to help the team, I'll do it."
So far, Saban has been impressed with Motley's ability to pick up the nuances of his new position and his physical consistency on the field.
"He's played the best so far at that position," Saban said. "He played well in the scrimmage and he's been one of the most improved players this spring and one of the pleasant surprises for us. He does a pretty good job on a pretty consistent basis in practice."
Motely's teammates have been impressed with his efforts this spring as well.
"He's a strong kid and a determined kid," said senior Wallace Gilberry. "Coach threw the switch on him and he accepted it like a man. He takes what Coach Davis tells him and then he goes out there and shows it. He reminds me a little of Antoine Caldwell. Antoine is a grown man at this point but Motley will be the same way before he's done."
Motley said the change of positions hasn't been easy but he feels confident in the progress he is making everyday in his new role.
"It's been a dramatic change but I'm getting used to it," Motley said. "I played defense in high school so I've just got to get my feet back under me and learn the routines and settle down and play."
"The first thing I have to take care of is the center and make sure he stays off the linebackers so they can make big plays in the backfield. The second thing is to come off the ball and try to make plays myself."
While Motley appears to be leading at the position this spring, he'll have stiffer competition in the fall when both Washington and Walton are healthy again and several new highly-touted freshmen will arrive on campus as well.
"This is about to be my fourth year out of high school so it's my time to step up. We've got three or four freshmen coming in this fall and Motley had a great scrimmage on Friday," said Washington. "I'm trying to lead as much as I can on the sidelines and hopefully I can keep rehabbing during the summer and have a good fall camp and compete for the job."
Saunders takes on new JACK position
While the defensive tackle spot faces plenty of uncertainty, there is one position on the field that players and fans alike have even more questions about. The new hybrid JACK linebacker position combines aspects of both defensive end and outside linebacker, something Tide fans haven't seen much of.
"To sum it up, it's basically a defensive end standing up," said Keith Saunders, the players Saban chose to serve as the first prototype for the position at Alabama. "You pass rush and you run stop and then you drop back sometimes. I did a little bit of it in high school. It's really fun to play because you get a little bit of an element of surprise."
Saunders said that although the position was new to the Tide defense, it wasn't something too difficult to understand once the coaching staff explained it to the team.
"They've done a really good job explaining everything to us in the meetings," Saunders said. "It's all about paying attention during those meetings and then going out on the field and executing. It's different than what we've played the last few years but if you understand the concepts, it's easy to pick up."
"They told us we did an alright job overall we just need to work on some technique issues," Saunders said.
The subject of Nick Saban's relationship with the media has been a topic of discussion in both the state and national media over the past few weeks. Saban took time out during a Thursday teleconference to address the issue of his relationship with the press corps.
"I want to have a good relationship with the media," Saban said. "I have a lot of respect for what the media does for our program and for our players and I've always had that. I try to create a balance that I feel is good for what we want to try to accomplish here and what gives you an opportunity as the media to do your job effectively. I try to give as much good information as I can relative to what's happening in the program. As we get to know people better maybe we'll have a little more flexibility in what we're doing but I think sometimes what your (the media's) agenda is and what we're trying to do here is not always the same thing."
Saban said he believes the media can be a positive force for his program and he intends to approach his media relations with that in mind.
"I respect what the media does for our college game and I think it's important and the game is what it is because of what the media does so in no way are we trying to disrespect the media. We want to have a good positive media relationship and I think everybody should respect that on both ends."