Johnny Manziel must haunt the dreams of Alabama head coach Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart.
The former Heisman Trophy winner terrorized the normally stout Alabama defense the past two seasons. While Manziel’s play-making ability was off the charts, his production was also the by-product of Texas A&M’s spread offense and up-tempo attack.
When Alabama faced Auburn and Oklahoma during the last two games of the season, the defense struggled against other up-tempo offenses that operated completely different from one another.
During those three games, Alabama surrendered 128 points and 1,450 total yards.
As a result, the Crimson Tide’s No. 1 goal this off season was improving against the varied offenses they’ll face this season and be adequately prepared for each.
“It’s definitely challenging, because you don’t face that kind of offense daily,” Smart Smart told coachingsearch.com. “It’s not who we are, offensively. You spend time simulating that in different ways, whether it’s the scout team or your offense, but you can never simulate it as good as a hurry-up team that does it. As far as recruiting, we try to get the best players we can, regardless of size or type of guy. Obviously, you’re going to have to beat LSU in our league, you’re going to have to beat Auburn, you’re going to have to beat Texas A&M.
“(There are) good teams in our league, especially our side, so you’ve got to have enough players that you can play every style of football. That’s obviously what our goal is. One of the No. 1 goals of this fall camp is to improve on that. There’s a lot of ways to improve on that, whether it’s being in shape, cutting weight so you can play more snaps. You’re going to have to play more people, so you have to have more depth. There are a lot of things we can do to improve on that and try to play those style of offenses better.”
The Crimson Tide’s defense has continually been one of college football’s best under Smart’s supervision. Yet, there is an inherent flaw in the composition of their scheme. Saban and Smart prefer bigger and more physical defensive linemen, linebackers and cornerbacks to physically overwhelm offenses. In doing so, the system sacrifices athleticism and speed in certain areas. Thus, teams like Texas A&M can attack the edges of the defense and prove to be successful.
Alabama continues to recruit some of the best overall athletes in the country. Smart and Saban will need to find new and creative ways to take advantage of this type of talent so the defense won’t struggle quite as much against spread offenses that love to vary the pace.