TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Kirby Smart loves the chess match his job has become.
Kirby enters his eighth season at Alabama and seventh as defensive coordinator having put together one of the top defenses in the nation every year, despite changes in the game. The Crimson Tide was fourth in scoring defense and fifth in total defense last season.
He was named the 2012 American Football Coaches Association Assistant Coach of the Year and the 2009 Broyles Award winner for being college football's top assistant coach."Kirby is a very, very good coach and contributes to our entire defense in a very positive way," coach Nick Saban said. "Being the defensive coordinator, I think he affects all the players in a positive way."
Being a head coach is on Smart's horizon, but he remains challenged by the new fast-paced, no-huddle offenses.
Returning only four starters, Alabama is rebuilding much of the defense, but Smart still expects similar positive results.
The SEC is no longer just a power conference. West Division rivals Auburn, Texas A&M and Ole Miss have gone to the no-huddle approach.
While Alabama's season numbers have been stellar, there have been discrepancies in games against fast-paced teams that also possess high-level talent.
"You can never simulate it as good as say a hurry-up team that traditionally does this well," Smart said. "So you've got to practice that the best you can."
Smart also moved to a new position group that he coaches on a daily basis. After working with the linebackers, he's now dealing with the safeties.
That's a key change when facing fast-paced offenses. Safeties who can stop the run at the line of scrimmage and get back to cover receivers are vital.
Smart coached the secondary under Saban at LSU and the Miami Dolphins.
"You have the guy who knows the plays and concepts and knows what's going on," safety Landon Collins said of Smart. "That makes you a better player."
Many of Alabama's defensive breakdowns came from being burned by the deep pass. Part of that was being inexperienced in coverage. Fixing that area became an emphasis for Saban.
Saban personally deals with the cornerbacks, while his No. 1 defensive coach now works with the safeties. Between the two of them, the secondary should tighten up.
"It's a huge difference," senior safety Nick Perry said of Smart. "Kirby Smart, he's a great defensive coach. Having him and Coach Saban in the same room is beneficial for our secondary."
Alabama turned up the intensity in offseason training so anyone who makes it onto the field can keep up physically with no-hundle offenses.
"Because we face so many offenses, I think up-tempo is going to be stressed quite a lot this fall," defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson said. "I would say the key is not being overweight and just pushing through when you get tired in practice and get used to it. And by the time the game comes around you'll be ready for it."
Then Alabama turned to recruiting. The Crimson Tide recruits two different types of players at each position. There's bulk for the power teams such as LSU mixed with the speed and stamina for the quick team such as Auburn.
An example of that is big A'Shawn Robinson splitting time with quick D.J. Pettway at defensive end.
"We want to be able to beat LSU in our [conference], Auburn in our [conference], Texas A&M, good teams in our [conference], especially our [divisional] side, that challenge you," Smart said. "So you've got to have enough players so that you can play every kind of style of football."