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Remember the Seniors

By Jim Johnson
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It's important to acknowledge that, without the year long contributions from their seniors, Tua Tagovailoa and company would not have been in that position in the first place.

Obviously the story of the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship was the play of Alabama’s freshmen. The Crimson Tide were led in passing, rushing, and receiving by first year players. However, while it’s easy to look ahead at the dynasty that doesn’t appear to be going anywhere fast, it’s important to acknowledge that, without the year long contributions from their seniors, Tua Tagovailoa and company would not have been in that position in the first place.

Tonight, defensive back Tony Brown ripped an interception on Georgia’s first series. The versatile playmaker, though, touted by Minkah Fitzpatrick in the preseason as the emotional leader of the secondary, has been apparently impactful going back even to spring ball. “Crazy Tony”, as he’s known, set the tone for the defense all season long, just as he did during the first possession of the title game.

Brown was joined in the defensive backfield by what proved to be one of the nation’s premier cornerback duos, Anthony Averett and former walk-on Levi Wallace. Each registered a pass breakup, tonight, bringing Averett’s total to nine and Wallace’s total to an SEC best 18. The latter emerged as one of the SEC’s most lockdown cover-men, posting the third lowest allowed passer rating among the conference’s corners, during the regular season. Averett, no slouch in coverage, made his presence felt in a number of ways, finishing the season with six run stuffs, four tackles for loss, and a sack -- the sack and two of the TFLs coming against Georgia.

Linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton, who was lost for the season to injury in early November, was still the centerpiece of the group through the first two months. Even having missed the last five games of the year, Hamilton will move on as one of the team’s leaders in both run stuffs and tackles for loss.

Meanwhile, Rashaan Evans, after largely being utilized as a rotational piece for much of his career, made his presence felt, especially after Hamilton’s injury. Ultimately, Evans ended up as the team’s leader in tackles per game and tackles for loss, capping off his career with an eight tackle, 1.5 TFL performance, in Atlanta.

Along the defensive line, Da’Shawn Hand, one of their more heralded players ahead of the season, was at times productive, but occasionally rotated more often than one would expect a star player to be. Still, when the linebacking corps thinned out during the season, it was his and Da’Ron Payne’s leadership in the trenches that allowed Alabama to maintain its status as the best run defense in college football.

Leading the Tide’s front, on the other side of the ball, newly engaged center Bradley Bozeman was the SEC’s second highest graded center, during the regular season, according to Pro Football Focus, allowing just one sack and four total pressures for the campaign.

As pieces of what was largely a younger offense, the only other significant senior contributors were wideouts Robert Foster and Cam Sims. Freshman Jerry Jeudy proved to be a dynamic option, second to Calvin Ridley, but Foster and Sims were more frequently targeted than the underclassman.

And, lest anyone forget, Alabama’s kicking game was dominated by elder statesmen. Placekicker Andy Pappanastos just avoided becoming a historic scapegoat in Alabama lore, and should now be remembered for his overarching reliability inside of 40-yards, aside from his final game. Then there’s JK Scott. One of the most reliable, consistent, weapons of a punter in college football, during his entire tenure with the Tide, Scott went out with a bang, averaging 47.5 yards per punt with two balls downed inside the 20-yard line, against Georgia. In a game like that, at times simply a battle of field position, there’s a compelling case to be made that, without Scott, Alabama doesn’t win that game. A similar case could be made for a number of contests throughout his career.

No, it doesn’t appear that Alabama’s dynasty is going anywhere.

Yes, it’s exciting to project ahead, given the performances of a few key Alabama freshmen, tonight.

However, as juniors become seniors, and in a handful of cases, NFL stars, sophomores become juniors, freshmen become sophomores, and a new cast of characters is rotated in, it’s imperative to acknowledge the departing senior leadership that made this all possible.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP