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Alabama first-year defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt works with linebacker Rashaan Evans during Tuesday's practice in Tuscaloosa.

Jeremy Pruitt has represented Alabama's football program as a defensive back, student assistant, director of player development, secondary coach and now as the defensive coordinator.

Pruitt has been a part of three national championships in his various roles with the Crimson Tide, and he added a fourth title as Florida State's defensive coordinator in 2013. Yet it may have been his last two seasons at Georgia that best prepared him for his most prominent role yet at his alma mater.

"When I left here and went to Florida State, we had very similar players," Pruitt said this week in a news conference. "When I went to Georgia, they had lost a lot of guys, so we had to play with some young guys and find ways to kind of cover up in the back end. We had some good pass-rushers, but the big thing defensively is just knowing what to do and how to do it and why it's important to do it that way.

"You can't let the offense create explosive plays. You've got to stay on top of your guys, and we kind of covered up some guys there."

Pruitt took over a Bulldogs defense that in 2013 allowed 4,882 total yards, the highest 13-game, single-season total in Georgia history, and 227.4 passing yards per game. Only four Georgia defenses had allowed more aerial yards per game, but Pruitt's Bulldogs led the nation last season in pass defense.

Five of Georgia's opponents a year ago ranked 110th or worse nationally in total offense, which helped factor into the lofty ranking against the pass, but the Bulldogs also were third nationally in red-zone defense and eighth in scoring defense.

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Nick Saban wasted no time in hiring Pruitt last December once Kirby Smart was tabbed as Georgia's new head coach, and Pruitt has made it clear that his job is to maintain what has been accomplished the last several seasons in Tuscaloosa.

"This is Coach Saban's defense," said Pruitt, who is overseeing the linebackers. "Everything in this program is Coach Saban's. When I left here and went to Florida State, I installed the defense that I learned here. As a coach, you take your wrinkles that you've learned over time, because every year as a coach you're looking to improve.

"One thing that Coach is so good at is that he's OK with change. There has to be a reason for it, but the offense has changed a little bit, and when I came back, I noticed some subtle changes on the defense that had happened here since I was gone."

Pruitt has inherited a defense overrun with players who bypassed an early exit to the NFL for a chance to shine as seniors: defensive end Jonathan Allen, pass-rushing threats Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams, inside linebacker Reuben Foster and safety Eddie Jackson.

It's a defense that could be quite special but also its own worst enemy, which may be Pruitt's chief challenge.

"This is the 2016 defense," he said. "It's not 2015 or '13 or '09 or '10. Our kids are buying into the fact that we have not done anything. I was here when we won a championship in '09, and the next year we couldn't hardly get over ourselves. We had a better transition after the '11 championship, because we had experienced it before.

"We've got to get over ourselves, because that's over with now. We're trying to create our identity for this year's team. We've got guys back at all three levels, but we're trying to stress to these guys that nobody cares how many plays you made last year."

Pruitt coached against Alabama last October, when the Crimson Tide won 38-10 at Athens. Derrick Henry rushed 26 times for 148 yards and Calvin Ridley had five receptions for 120 yards to lead the rout, which left Pruitt with an even larger impression of Alabama football.

"Being on the other side, the one thing that stood out was just how big the offense was compared to us," Pruitt said. "A lot of people can have success running the football, but you have to be able to do it over and over. Being on the other side and playing against Alabama, the commitment to run and having to stop it play after play, which we didn't do — they can change the way you think a little bit."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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