Who Will Step Up in Place of Christopher Allen?
Christopher Allen blazed past Miami Hurricanes right tackle DJ Scaife, Jr., slapping the junior's hands away and crashing into D'Eriq King, sandwiching the 6th-year senior with his running mate Will Anderson. The sack forced a fumble, recovered by fellow senior Phidarian Mathis.
For a brief moment, fans thought Allen had secured the first of what was supposed to be a double-digit sack season. Unfortunately for him and this dominant Alabama defense, it may have been his last play of the 2021 season.
Allen was helped off the field, before being carted to the locker room with a boot on his right foot. After the game, head coach Nick Saban revealed the injury to be significant, and possibly season-ending.
The season wears on. Allen will be missed. The "next man up mentality" is always a painful one, but it's the reality of the sport.
Former 5-star sophomores Drew Sanders and Chris Braswell will have to step up in Allen's place along the country's most fierce defensive front.
Sanders will likely take the starting role. The Texas native was the first to rotate with Allen and Anderson before the injury and was listed as Allen's backup in the depth chart released last Monday.
If the last thing you remember of Sanders is him getting burned on a wheel route late against Missouri last year, forget about it. Sanders is a much more mature player in Alabama's defense in 2021, and it shows in his versatility.
"Drew's a good player. We've rotated those three guys (Anderson, Allen and Sanders) all through camp, and all through the Spring as starters," Saban said post-game. "We have confidence in Drew. We have a couple of other young players that are going to have to, you know Dallas Turner, and some of the young players we have are going to get an opportunity to play at that position as well."
Sanders still needs to show more as a pass rusher. He got a good push in his opportunities and helped disrupt King a couple of times, but his pass-rushing move set didn't appear to extend past an outside speed rush or a bull rush.
That said, his understanding of the defense is what affords him the first opportunity, which he displayed on multiple occasions against Miami.
Sanders won't be alone in replacing Allen's snaps, as Saban alluded to.
Fellow 5-star Chris Braswell worked into the rotation for Will Anderson primarily but did have snaps with "The Terminator" on the opposite end. Braswell is a talented speed rusher. He wasn't quite as effective in the run game as Sanders, but he was far from a liability, getting in on a couple of plays even if he was only credited with two tackles.
Saban directly mentioned freshman 5-star Dallas Turner as a player who could see more time. Turner didn't get any defensive snaps until the game was in hand. He had four snaps opposite Braswell on Miami's last two possessions. He showed a quick get-off, but four plays just aren't enough to get an understanding of what he may bring if he's called upon in true game time moving forward.
Still, the outside linebacker position is the deepest for the Crimson Tide defense in terms of raw talent next to the interior defensive line.
Saban and defensive coordinator Pete Golding will likely get a chance to see a handful of edge linebacker combinations when Alabama takes on Mercer in Bryant-Denny Stadium in Week 2 at 3 p.m. CST on the SEC Network.