How bad was that Alabama defensive line after all?

Happy 2012! The world hasn’t ended just yet, so celebrate by reading today’s story from the print edition:

TUSCALOOSA — All that talk of ignoring outside criticism is easily spoken, but impossible to ignore.

Hardly oblivious to the preseason chatter, the Alabama defensive line tried to go about its business through the whispers.

“They thought we’d be the weak point,” first-year starter and defensive end Jesse Williams said.

The No. 2 Crimson Tide still led the nation in every major measure of defensive statistics. And it’s their dominance, starting with the line, that put Alabama in the Jan. 9 BCS National Championship Game against LSU.

But those preseason questions didn’t always come from outside the Alabama football complex. At SEC Media Days in July, Alabama coach Nick Saban said there wasn’t a prototypical pass rusher on the line after losing Marcell Dareus to the NFL.

“I’m not sure we have those kind of dominating down guys right now,” Saban said in July. “We’re trying to develop some of those guys as younger players.”

The handful of starters didn’t collect the 4.5 sacks and 10 quarterback hurries Dareus had a year ago.

They also didn’t collapse under the pressure of filling his shoes.

But it’s sometimes hard to quantify the success of a defensive line built to swallow blockers, instead of stuffing stat sheets.

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