Kevin Steele took over as Alabama football's defensive coordinator this offseason, and he's making discipline and fundamentals the foundation.
Alabama football linebacker Deontae Lawson couldn't help but smile when discussing the subject of toughness.
He was asked Friday in a news conference about what kind of toughness new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele is emphasizing; that's when Lawson grinned. And he kept smiling as he answered the question.
"The way he coaches, the way he goes about the little things, you can just tell it’s going to be a tough defense," Lawson said. "We want to force turnovers."
The defensive system will not be changing under Steele, as is the case with every defensive coordinator Saban hires. Still, it's up to each coordinator to stress different elements to give each defense an identity.
According to his players, Steele seems to be emphasizing fundamentals, fundamentals and fundamentals. Also, playing with discipline, which can be translated to minimizing penalties. And last but not least: Take the ball away from the other team.
"Really just, the ball, generating more turnovers, which will lead to points," Lawson said. "Really the same things, but the little things. It’s all about the little things. That’s what we’re trying to work on."
Steele returned to Alabama football for his third time with Saban this offseason, taking over the defense from Pete Golding who went to Ole Miss for the same role. Steele has been in the business for 39 years, with 13 in the SEC and 10 as a defensive coordinator.
He was Saban's first defensive coordinator at Alabama in 2007 and served as an assistant in 2008 before returning to work as director of player personnel (2013) and linebackers coach (2014).
Now he's back after almost a decade away, and who better to instill qualities from the Alabama defenses of old than Steele?
"The best thing is Coach Steele has been here before," defensive end Justin Eboigbe said. "So it’s a guy who has been there, knows how Coach Saban likes things, knows the ins and outs of things. I think the best thing is to have someone who has already been in the system."
Steele understands Saban better than most, having known him since the 1980s. So he knows not only what Saban likes but also what irks him.
Penalties rank high on that list. Especially ones that stem from easily fixable errors. Those were a problem too frequently for the Crimson Tide this past season; Alabama was the ninth-most flagged team in the country in 2022.
"Really, penalties is the main thing we’ve been focusing on," Lawson said. "Making sure everybody is doing their job and no mental errors. That’ll lead to points."
Eliminating mental errors is the first step, but playing sound football also will help minimize flags.
"The biggest thing he has been instilling is knowing the fundamentals," Eboigbe said. "Just preaching about doing it to the best of your ability."