How the 2023 Alabama defense can regain ‘dominance,’ according to a 2-time champion

As is discussed every preseason, Alabama’s expectations were a conversation point during SEC Media Days in Nashville last week.
Both JC Latham and Dallas Turner sprinkled some kerosene onto the open flame with Latham foreshadowing a national title and Turner referencing “joyless murderball,” a fan-favorite term to describe UA’s form of dominance since Nick Saban touched down in Tuscaloosa.
It’s not a stretch to say there’s a dynastic standard when it comes to Tide football, specifically its defense. But that bar hasn’t been cleared in the last few years.
Alabama last finished in the top five of total team defense in 2017 (when it was No. 1 per In 2022, UA finished ninth amid issues with penalties and blown coverages. Speaking to on Friday, Tide first-round draft pick and Washington Commanders defensive tackle Daron Payne described his view of those old Tide defenses and what he wants to see the 2023 team reproduce.
“I just want them to get back to attacking and just being a force that teams don’t want to see, don’t want to play. Teams scared to see you,” Payne, a national champion in 2015 and 2017, said last Friday while his high school number was retired at Shades Valley. “Back when I was playing, there was one year we scored all the points. I just want them to get back to being dominant and not rely on scoring so many on offense. They have to shut out the game.”
Payne was referring to Alabama’s 24 forced turnovers and incredible 11 defensive touchdowns scored in 2016, another year the Tide led the country in total defense. Back then it seemed like not only did you have to keep Alabama’s skill players out of the endzone, but it’s aggressive defenders as well.
With the 2016 team depth and its eventual six first-round picks, it could be argued it’s one of the best groups in the Saban era (and it has been). Comparatively, the lack of turnovers was an early warning sign for the 2022 unit.
It produced 12 takeaways a year ago, a drop-off from the 21 turnovers in 2021 with a majority of the same key pieces. Road struggles in the Texas, Tennessee and LSU games also conjured wishful memories of “hateful competitors.”
Five newcomers will pair with the six returners this fall: Turner, defensive linemen Tim Smith and Jaheim Oatis, cornerbacks Kool-Aid McKinstry and Terrion Arnold and safety Malachi Moore. Together they’ll try and meet Payne’s expectations this fall. McKinstry, now in his third season, is expected to be a focal point and is a projected first-round pick.
“I love Kool-Aid,” Payne said, “that’s my lil’ dog. I know he’s prepping for a big year so I’m excited for him.”
Alabama certainly went with an old-school flavor when it hired the returning Kevin Steele after Pete Golding’s departure to Ole Miss. Saban praised Steele’s work so far, saying Steele “knows what’s expected.”

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