ATLANTA — Terrell Lewis’ advice for the freshman starting in Alabama’s defense cam be reduced to the simplest way to play defensive football.
“See ball, get ball.”
In most other situations, veterans of three years such as Lewis would be required to lead the young players through their collegiate debuts. But nose guard DJ Dale and linebackers Christian Harris and Shane Lee were thrown into positions of prominence in UA’s defense. They rose to the occasion in Alabama’s 42-3 win over Duke.
“I just told them, ‘If you see something, just play football. Don’t be a robot out there, still just play football,’” Lewis said. “They did really well. They stepped up really big, communicated well, relayed the calls and played really fast.”
The communication aspect was particularly important for Lee, the starting Mike linebacker in the absence of Dylan Moses, who suffered a knee injury on Tuesday. The Mike is responsible for most of the communication in UA’s defense — a role coach Nick Saban did not plan on altering with a freshman in it — but Lewis thinks Lee handled it well.
Lee handled the Duke offense well, too, with six tackles. One of them came on a fourth-and-1 on the Alabama 7-yard line in what was then a scoreless game. Lee later chased down Duke receiver Jason Calhoun in open field for just a gain of 2. At the time the defense was tasked with protecting a 7-0 lead; the tackle helped for a three-and-out, and Alabama scored seven plays later.
Harris also had six tackles, two of them on third down to force two of Duke’s six punts.
“I thought their linebackers, those young linebackers played exceptionally well,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “They’re big, strong, really good players. I know Moses is one of the best linebackers I’ve seen, period. I think he’s a great player. I hate it for him.”
Dale had just as big an impact as any, not only in generating three tackles, 1/2 for a loss, but playing so well that he rarely came off the field while the first unit was playing.
“There was a couple things that we sort of made errors on, but for the most part, for the first game, for both of these guys, both being true freshmen, I thought they made a lot of good plays,” Saban said. “They did a good job adapting with the run reads, and they did a pretty good job in coverage for the most part. I’m sure that there’s going to be a lot of things that we’re going to learn from from this experience, but I was pretty pleased for the first time out.”
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @brett_hudson