Alabama defense has talent waiting to replace departed stars

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Terrell Hall rushed headlong into the right tackle, shuffled his feet and timed his jump perfectly, snatching a screen pass out of midair before sprinting 60 yards into the end zone for what's become a familiar sight for Alabama fans: a non-offensive touchdown.

On the sideline, Minkah Fitzpatrick did push-ups when he failed to haul in an interception of his own, and Ronnie Harrison played with the kind of aggression befitting a playoff game, not a glorified scrimmage, which is what A-Day essentially is. Harrison leveled tight end Miller Forristall early, knocking him out of the game with a back injury, and was later was called for targeting when he launched himself into star wideout Calvin Ridley.

"It was a good pop," Forristall said. "It is what it is.

"He’s a tough, physical guy. You can’t knock him for that."

Nine players had sacks on the final practice of the spring, and a trio of linebackers -- Keith Holcombe, Rashaan Evans and Christian Miller -- stood out with two apiece.

Though the sideline was littered with former players awaiting the start of NFL camp, this was our first look at the next crop of defensive stars at Alabama. One eye was kept on the future, while another awaited the fate of the draft less than two weeks away.

Defensive end Jonathan Allen might go No. 1 overall when the draft begins tonight, and many people project cornerback Marlon Humphrey to land somewhere the latter half of the first round. Outside linebackers Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson will be off the board before long, and defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson could be one of the steals of the draft.

After A-Day and the 14 spring practices before that, we’re starting to find out who their replacements will be.

Williams and Anderson combined for 42 sacks the past two seasons, and Alabama hopes the trio of Hall, Miller and Anfernee Jennings can make up for some of their lost production. Miller, a former No. 1 prospect at outside linebacker in the 2014 recruiting class and the son of former New York Giant Corey Miller, has seen his workload increase over the past two seasons and is set to be a starter alongside Jennings. But Hall, a 6-foot-5, 247-pound true sophomore from Washington, D.C., showed at A-Day why so many people see him as the future of the position.

"Hall is one of my young guys, man," said Evans, a senior at inside linebacker. "As you can see, he’s an athlete. He caught the ball, went for the touchdown with the pick-six. Expect him to be doing that this season."

On the defensive line, look to Da'Shawn Hand as the heir apparent to Allen at end. Hand, a former top recruit from the same area of Virginia as Allen, has been a backup for most of his three seasons on campus and could go out with a bang as a senior. Meanwhile, junior college transfer Isaiah Buggs has created some buzz as a difference-maker on the interior of the line -- a spot vacated by Tomlinson.

On the back end of the defense, don’t necessarily expect a second Marlon Humphrey to come along and become a shutdown cornerback, although Anthony Averett returns as a more than capable starter. Rather, the stars could be at safety, where Fitzpatrick and Harrison each have pro potential.

Fitzpatrick, who has started at nickelback, cornerback and safety in his first two seasons, is one of the more cerebral players in the game and a playmaker with a career stat line of 111 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, eight interceptions, four touchdowns and 17 passes defended. Harrison, on the other hand, is the heavy hitter of the two with the kind of size and speed that NFL scouts will covet.

From Harrison to Hand to Hall, there is talent everywhere on defense. Evans could develop into a star in his second full season at inside linebacker, and true freshman linebacker Dylan Moses is brimming with potential, whether he plays inside or out.

With Nick Saban leading the program, the expectation is never to rebuild, but to reload.

The NFL draft will take a few great players tonight and over the course of the next few days, but it won’t leave the cupboard empty for Saban and defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. Not by a long shot.