Alabama football

Nick Saban at practice.

TUSCALOOSA — Nick Saban’s comments last week describing Alabama as a “different kind of team” are revealing, especially in relation to his expectations about this season’s Crimson Tide defense.

The quote came in response to questions about the team’s ongoing quarterback competition, which will likely enter Saturday’s regular-season opener against Louisville still deadlocked between junior incumbent Jalen Hurts and sophomore sensation Tua Tagovailoa.

“We may have to score more points to win this season than we have in the past,” Saban told ESPN’s Chris Low.

The insinuation is Alabama will rely more on its potentially explosive offense — as opposed to its usual dependence on a dominating defense — to beat teams this season, a perception many offensive players are eager to propagate.

“Obviously, this place has always been about defense for the longest time and we’re trying to rewrite that. Not that the defense can’t play great because they will be great, but we want to lessen their burden every game,” senior tight end Hale Hentges said Tuesday, later adding the goal is to “be the team that hangs 60 points on everybody.”

“And that’s something we’ve been trying to … just change this identity, to make Alabama seem like the place that has the most amazing offense, the most unstoppable offense and like people have thought about our defense for so long.”

On the flip side, Saban’s comments to ESPN can also provide insight into what he expects to see from a defense that returns just two starters and will be breaking in an entirely new — read: inexperienced — secondary.

Saban, of course, partially dismissed that notion Wednesday.

“We expect to play well on defense. I just think we have a really talented offensive team and my comment was really more to challenge them,” Saban said. “Our defense has got a lot of new faces, a lot of new players, a lot of good players that have not played a lot and don’t have a lot of experience. But I’m hopeful that as these guys learn and grow and play together, they can become a very, very solid unit.”

A unit that will undoubtedly be tested against a Louisville offense that averaged 38.1 points per game last season and features unproven but talented sophomore quarterback Jawon Pass, four of five returning starters on the offensive line, and its top three leading receivers from a year ago — including brazen sophomore Dez Fitzpatrick.

“That is definitely a challenge for us,” Saban said adding Alabama’s inexperience on defense is something “everybody’s concerned about.”

“When you have a lot of new players, that becomes something that they have to prove that they can do, and that’s going to be something that we’ll be watching very closely in this game.”

For senior outside linebacker Christian Miller, Saban’s comments are a wakeup call for a Tide defense that has finished as the nation’s No. 1 scoring and rushing defense the past two seasons.

“He obviously knows what he’s talking about, so that means we should probably step it up, whether it’s being on the same page, not making mental errors, or physically just being all that we can be,” Miller said. “I don’t take it negatively at all. It just means we need to improve. … I think that means he wants to see us show improvement.”

Not helping matters is a rash of injuries after talented outside linebackers Terrell Lewis and Chris Allen both underwent potential season-ending knee surgeries in the preseason. Compounded by offseason departures of inside linebackers VanDarius Cowan (dismissed) and Keith Holcombe, who elected to forgo his final season of football eligibility to focus on baseball, and the heart of the defense is thin.

Those losses have effectively expedited the need for several prominent freshmen to develop quicker and provide reliable depth early this season.

In fact, Alabama’s Week 1 depth chart lists either redshirt or true freshmen as backups at seven different defensive positions, including at all four linebacker spots.

Eyabi Anoma, a former five-star signee, and Cameron Latu are co-backups with senior Jamey Mosley on the outside, while newcomer Ale Kaho and Markail Benton are on the second-team unit at inside linebacker.

That’s telling since Saban has publicly expressed concern about the lack of positive progress being made by many of these same freshmen, which in turn has placed the onus on many Tide veterans to help bring their younger counterparts along quicker.

“That’s kind of how it works,” Miller said. “It’s not only Coach Saban’s job, it’s also the older guys’ job for us to do what we can to get those guys game-ready because we’re going to need everybody.”

Added junior outside linebacker Anfernee Jennings: “We don’t look at it like a burden, but, I mean, we look at it like if everybody does their job, we’ve got nothing to worry about.”

Burden or not, Saban’s rare apprehension regarding Alabama’s defense this season also serves as proper motivation for a unit eager to live up to its predecessors.

“I look at it as a challenge, and I like challenges,” Miller said. “If anything, that makes me more eager to go out there and do whatever we can to show people that this defense is another great defense.”