The Saban 250, 26-30 Features a Pair of Beasts, Reuben Foster and Landon Collins (2024)

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Every year, the same question seemed to be asked regarding the University of Alabama football program, and there often wasn't a concrete answer.

Take 2017, for example. Just about the first thing asked at the press conferences for the 2016 SEC Championship Game was what does Alabama do at interior linebacker moving forward. It was painfully obvious that weakside linebacker Reuben Foster would soon be moving on the National Football League, but middle linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton also tore the ACL in his right knee late in the first half.

The immediate answer for the College Football Playoff, and eventual epid National Championship Game against Georgia, was Rashaan Evans. He not only stepped in and performed well, but he might have made the defensive play of the game. It was on third down at the Alabama 2, when Florida running back Jordan Scarlett hoped to dive into the end zone — only to get hammered by Evans for a 1-yard loss. The Gators tried to throw into end the zone on fourth down, resulting in an incompletion. The Crimson Tide subsequently drove 98 yards en route to a 54-16 victory.

“I see greatness in him,” Foster about Evans after the game. “Savage mentality.”

For a couple of years, that had been how most people described Foster, who when he left Tuscaloosa was primarily known for two things with the Crimson Tide: winning the Butkus Award as the nation's most outstanding linebacker, and his brutal hits — sometimes to his own detriment. Regardless, he was the kind of player who forced his offensive opponents to know where he was on the field at all times.

“Reuben is really a man of few words,” said Alabama head coach Nick Saban, who could have added: “and many, many tackles.”

Since Saban had became the Crimson Tide's head coach in 2007, the numbers for the team leader in tackles have been remarkably consistent to that point. Sure, there had been bumps and dips, and the number of games in a season fluctuated between 12 and 15. But since 2012 the best tackle totals were always between 102 and 108.

That is until Foster in 2016. His 115 total were the most of any player Saban coached at Alabama, and second only to C.J. Mosley in average per game.

However, it’s nowhere near the total of what some Saban players had before he landed at Alabama. It spoke volumes on two levels, how much the game had changed during the coaches' career, and how little the Crimson Tide had to rely on one or two players, the overall defensvie talent was always first-rate.

Player School Season Tackles

1.Bradie James LSU, 2002, 154
2.Ike Reese Michigan State 1997, 137
3.Aric Morris Michigan State 1999, 132
4.Aric Morris Michigan State 1998, 127
5.Sorie Kanu Michigan State 1998, 121
6.Trev Faulk LSU, 2001, 119
7.Reuben Foster Alabama, 2016, 115
8.Ike Reese Michigan State 1996, 115
9.Trev Faulk LSU, 2000, 113
10.Bradie James LSU, 2001, 113

If anything, one would think the number of tackles would be going up with more games played and defensive snaps on the rise. When Alabama led the nation in scoring defense in 2011, it yielded 8.15 points per game. It did so again in 2016 at 13.0.

Combined with Alabama’s offense playing at a higher tempo, Crimson Tide defenders were on the field more by a significant margin:

Total Snaps by Opponents (average), 2011-16

• 2011: 720 (55.4)
• 2012: 837 (59.9)
• 2013: 771 (59.3)
• 2014: 945 (67.5)
• 2015: 963 (64.2)
• 2016: 983 (65.5)

Saban’s scheme was about shutting down the running lanes and then chasing everything else, but football isn’t played nearly as much between the tackles as it used to be so versatility with the interior linebackers was becoming more important. While they had fewer ballcarriers heading in their direction, the need for speed only grew

Foster, who went into his senior season saying he wanted to play like a Ferrari, lost approximately 15 pounds so he could play faster. It worked, and after being a first-round draft pick could afford to buy a Ferrari.

"[Foster] reminds me of Luke Kuechly when I watch tape,” Mike Mayock of the NFL Network said at the time. “He’s an immediate impact player. Sideline to sideline, he will light you up.”

Granted, Foster didn't come close to matching Mosley's 319 career total tackles, but he did have the distinction of having the most tackles during any season Saban won a national championship. When LSU brought home the crystal football in 2003, the Tigers’ leading tackler was free safety LaRon Landry with 80. That was the same number notched by Dylan Moses during Saban's final national title with the 2020 Crimson Tide.

The Saban 250: 26-30

The Saban 250 ranks the players who made the biggest impact during his time with the Crimson Tide (2007-23).

26. Reuben Foster, LB, 2013-16

•Won 2016 Butkus Award
•2016 unanimous All-American
•2016 All-SEC
•First-round pick 2017 NFL Draft
•During final season led the Crimson Tide with 115 tackles, including 60 solo. Also had 13.0 tackles for loss, five sacks. eight quarterback hurries and two pass breakups
•Finished career with 211 tackles, including 23 for a loss and seven sacks
•Team captain

27. Chance Warmack, G, 2009-12

•2012 unanimous All-American
•2012 All-SEC; 2011 second-team All-SEC
•No. 10-overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft
•Was the first guard selected in the top-10 of an NFL draft since Chris Naeole in 1997
•Team captain

28. Dallas Turner, OLB, 2021-23

•2023 consensus All-American; second-team All-American

•2023 All-SEC

•2023 co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year

•17th-overall selection in 2024 NFL Draft

•Team captain 2023

•Appeared in 42 games, with 27starts. Credited with 120 career tackles, including 33.5 for a loss and 23.5 sacks, with two forced fumbles and two recoveries.

•Finished strong in 2023, with a team-high 14.5 tackles for a loss, and 10 sacks. In 14 starts had 53 tackles.

•Played in all 13 games with 10 starts in 2002, had 37 tackles, eight for a loss and four sacks

•Played in all 15 games as a freshman and had 30 tackles, 10 for a loss and 8.5 sacks

29. Landon Collins, S, 2012-14

•2014 unanimous All-American

•2014 All-SEC

•Second-round pick in 2015 NFL Draft

•During his first start had an 89-yard touchdown return for a touchdown against Tennessee

•As a junior led the Crimson Tide with 98 tackles, to go with three interceptions and two fumble recoveries

•Made 184 career tackles, including 8.5 for a loss, and five interceptions

•Team captain

30. Da'Ron Payne, DT, 2015-17

•2017 All-American; second-team All-American

•2017 All-SEC

•No. 13-overall selection in 2018 NFL Draft

•Defensive MVP of the Sugar Bowl and the College Football Playoff National Championship Game

•As part of Alabama’s jumbo goal-line package caught a pass for a touchdown against Clemson in the Sugar Bowl

•Was credited with 53 tackles, 45 of which came against the run, one sack and a team-high eight hurries during his final season. Also had an interception and a fumble recovery

The Saban 250, 26-30 Features a Pair of Beasts, Reuben Foster and Landon Collins (1)

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The phone call was made just before the 2014 Under Armour All-America Game because if anyone could understand the situation it was Alabama safety Landon Collins.

Just two years previous the older brother had been in that very same spot, about to make a verbal commitment during a national broadcast, in his case just a couple of days before Alabama was set to play rival LSU in the BCS National Championship Game.

College football fans remember it well because at the time Collins’s mother hoped he would stay close to home, Geismar, La., located about 20 miles down I-10 from Baton Rouge, and play for the Tigers. Afterward they didn’t talk for a few days as he would come home from school and simply head upstairs to his room. It was hard on both of them.

“She came one day and picked me up at school and we went to the movies,” Collins said. “I think we saw Transformers. We just had a relaxed, calm day and talked everything out.”

When his turn came, though, the younger brother still had some lingering doubts. Prize defensive lineman Gerald Willis III also wanted to make his mark on his own, but even farther away from home to Florida. He had also seen how some people in Louisiana had made it clear that they would never forgive his brother.

Had it been worth it? What about mom? What do you think I should do?

Collins, who sort of joked that on a scale of one to 10 the recruiting pressure he felt had been “1,000,” reassured Gerald that his decision shouldn’t be about trying not to let other people down. He should go where he felt best.

"I just said follow where your heart wants to be,” said Collins, who then called it “fantastic” that he’d see his brother on an opposing sideline.

“We’ve always been competitive. It’s been a great experience for him down at Florida. I love my brother and wish him the best.”

It just helped show how far Collins had come, though.

When he first arrived at Capstone the former 5-star prospect couldn’t wait to be an every-down contributor and played with reckless abandon. Coach Nick Saban went so far as to describe him as a “beast” on special teams, and Collins was widely hailed as having the potential to be the Crimson Tide’s next great defensive back.

Although the secondary featured plenty of established players and veteran reserves, Collins claimed a spot in the starting lineup for good midway through the 2013 season. He wound up second in team tackles with 70, including four for a loss, to go with two interceptions, eight pass breakups, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

With safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri subsequently leaving early for the NFL, and Alabama having a lot of uncertainty at cornerback, Collins became the secondary’s most established player ahead of schedule.

“He’s turned into a monster now,” safety Nick Perry said. “We make jokes all the time of how he used to be when he was a freshman, like a chicken with his head cut off out there. But now he’s just the commander out there. He makes the right plays, makes the great plays. He makes the right calls now. I feel like he’s comfortable in what he’s doing. He’s embracing the leadership role.”

That really began during the spring, when the only other defensive back with a set role was Jarrick Williams as the “star” — the extra defensive back in nickel formation. Collins became the primary spokesman for the group and told reporters on A-Day how pleased he was with the secondary’s progress and improved communication. He continued to pick up the mantle when representing Alabama’s defense at SEC Media Days.

“He's been probably a key guy in a leadership role,” Saban said. “The guy practices hard every day, works hard every day, team's important to him. I think the other players on the team are important to him. He has set a great example and certainly showed that he cares about the people around him and how he can affect them. I think it's been very, very good.”

Helping Collins was the return of Kirby Smart as position coach for the safeties after handling the interior linebackers the previous three seasons. Before Smart was named the 2012 Assistant Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association he won the 2009 Broyles Award as college football's top assistant coach while directly overseeing Alabama’s safeties.

“He just coaches us at a different level, trying to get us to understand it from his point of view because he played the position and he knows what’s going on; it’s his defense,” Collins said. “So basically it’s a tremendous thing for us safeties because he sits down and goes step-by-step on what we need to do and what will make us a better player.”

Collins called the first offseason of learning from Smart, “fantastic.”

“I got to work a lot on my footwork and schemes and getting my eye directions right, so you can play quicker and move and react faster.”

Teammates said the confidence boost was apparent and making a significant difference. Collins went from not being sure of himself and what he could do, to becoming the kind of player that every opposing player had to take note of before each snap.

“He's a fast guy getting to the ball, like on a reverse,” wide receiver Amari Cooper about facing Collins. “He's coming down really fast. He's always near the ball, so you have to be very aware of him.”

That he also hits like a truck contributes to that as well: “Yes he does,” Cooper added.

As for his brother, when Collins went home in the spring, Willis flashed a Gators sign at him midway through a workout, the beginning of the next stage in their rivalry (“So it’s definitely started,” he said with a smile).

Meanwhile, the hometown fans still berated him every chance they got, which only provided more motivation, and Collins talked to his mom every day on the phone. She was there when he has his final real homecoming at Tigers Stadium, and at Bryant-Denny Stadium to see her boys square off for possibly the only time during their collegiate careers — wearing a half Gator, half Crimson Tide outfit.

“He can’t support one and not the other,” Collins said.

See also: 31-35 Calvin Ridley had Hand in Alabama Becoming WRU

Next up: 21-25

The Saban 250, 26-30 Features a Pair of Beasts, Reuben Foster and Landon Collins (2024)
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