TAMPA, Fla. — Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott is tasked with creating a plan to attack the Alabama football team’s defense.
The Tigers and the Crimson Tide face off in the College Football Playoff national championship on Monday night. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Alabama leads the nation in scoring defense (11.4 points per game allowed), rushing defense (62 yards per game) and total defense (244 yards per game). The Crimson Tide rank among the top 15 nationally in pass defense.
What jumped out about the Crimson Tide’s defense when Elliott first turned on the film?
“That every one of them, all starting 11, will probably play in the National Football League,” Elliott said during Clemson’s media day on Saturday.
CBSSports.com currently has four Alabama defenders listed among the top 25 prospects for this draft class.
Jonathan Allen, Alabama’s star defensive lineman, was listed as the No. 1 overall prospect in ESPN analyst Todd McShay’s first mock draft.
“Their defensive line is a little bit different from last year,” Elliott said. “And it looks like you can see by design, they want to continue to keep those two big guys inside to stop the run — big two-gap guys, but they’re a lot faster coming off the edge.”
Alabama made an effort to slim down in its front seven during the offseason so the players would be better prepared to defend up-tempo offenses.
Most notably, linebacker Reuben Foster dropped from 240 pounds to 228. Foster still delivers the same punishment on hits, but is much faster when running sideline-to-sideline.
Elliott mentioned Foster, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and defensive back Tony Brown as players who have stood out.
Foster, the Butkus Award winner, leads Alabama with 103 total tackles, including 54 solo stops.
Fitzpatrick has played cornerback, nickel back and is now starting at safety since the Tide lost Eddie Jackson to injury. Brown stepped into the starting nickel back position since Fitzpatrick moved to safety.
“I think Reuben Foster is playing some of the best football I’ve seen in a linebacker in my six years at Clemson,” Elliott said. “He’s totally transformed from last year. You can see that he’s grown up. He’s in charge.
“Minkah gives them some flexibility on the back end. Really like what Tony Brown has done coming in and playing in that nickel position.”
Clemson racked up 550 yards of offense and 40 points on Alabama’s defense in the title game last year.
This season, Alabama’s defense is more aggressive. It’s blitzing more and attacking the football to force turnovers.
Alabama is No. 1 in the country with 11 defensive touchdowns on the season.
“They run well. They communicate,” Elliott said. “Obviously, you can see that they have a lot of different adjustments based on the movements that you do, but everybody is on the same page. They’re never out of a gap. It looks like they’re having a lot of fun. They’re playing hard, and they’re not just playing to stop you, they’re playing to score points on defense.
“That’s what you notice about this year. They’re stripping the ball, and everybody is flying to the ball hoping that it pops out so they can be the one (to score). I think that I saw something on social media that they call the ‘six-club.’ They all want to be a part of that ‘six-club.'”