When Jay Gruden watches college football, it’s no surprise the program that has won four of the past eight national titles sticks out.
“You watch other defenses, no disrespect, and then you flip on an Alabama game, it’s different,” Gruden said.
That helps to explain why a school-record 10 Alabama players were selected in the 2017 NFL draft. Gruden’s Washington Redskins took two of them — defensive lineman Jonathan Allen in the first round and linebacker Ryan Anderson in the second — and believe playing at Alabama allows them to quickly transition roll into the professional game.
“They played in a lot of huge games,” Gruden said. “The SEC, you can argue all you want, is the best conference in football and they played great competition week in and week out. Every game was a huge game for them, not to mention their record was what it was.”
A high-level of game competition and pro-style practices have Allen and Anderson ready to contribute right away to a defense that ranked 28th in the league the past two seasons. Allen should be part of a heavy rotation on the defensive line and Anderson will likely get time early on, especially in pass-rushing situations.
“Playing at Alabama has made things a lot easier for me,” Allen said.
Anderson said practices at Alabama were “rougher” than in the NFL and hopes that makes a difference.
“We do a lot of banging around there,” Anderson said, “so it definitely prepared me physically and mentally for this grind I’m doing now.”
It’s only the start of the grind for seven Alabama defenders drafted this year. Allen was second behind cornerback Marlon Humphrey, and there are high expectations on the Northern Virginia native who only fell to Washington with the 17th pick because of concerns about shoulder injuries.
Allen said Nick Saban and the rest of the Crimson Tide coaching staff helped him and other teammates learn how to practice. The evidence has shown on the field with the Redskins as Allen hasn’t looked like a rookie.
“He learns quick,” left tackle Trent Williams said. “A couple moves that I would do and it would take a few times to catch on, with him it only works once and you’ve got to switch it up. … He’s making good strides.”
Williams thinks opposing linemen will figure out what Southeastern Conference counterparts learned after Allen led Alabama with 10.5 sacks last season and 12 during the 2015 national championship season. Anderson was third on the team in sacks those two years, and he and Allen each scored a touchdown last season when Alabama’s defense had seven.
“They just had that mentality of running to the ball,” Gruden said. “They had other players on their defense that were very good also, but Jonathan was consistent in the middle. His junior year, he was a great pass rusher. He transformed his game to become a better run player. And then Ryan was just all around the football all the time.”
With former general manager Scot McCloughan saying on Twitter the Redskins followed his draft board for all but one pick, toughness and physicality were understandably a priority. Already senior director of player personnel Doug Williams, effectively McClougan’s successor, said, “Jonathan Allen is the guy that he was hyped up to be.”
Allen is the quiet type, even around teammates, so he’s not adding to the hype. Defensive line coach Jim Tomsula recognizes that, saying Allen is a “humble” person who was raised right.
Gruden credits the time they spent in Tuscaloosa to help shape Allen’s and Anderson’s mature personalities.
“I don’t think they have any choice but to be mature coming from Alabama,” Gruden said. “Both are very mature beyond their years, have great work ethic and are good football players.”