Now that we’ve looked at the most important player on offense for UAB football in 2017, we’ll look at the defensive side of the ball.

There’s no doubting that the defense is expected to carry the team in 2017. They have the most experience returning. If the Blazers are going to have any chance at making noise in 2017, the defense is going to have to keep them in games.

Much like on offense, the decision on defense is pretty obvious for me. The most important player on this unit will be linebacker Shaq Jones.

He is the leading tackler returning from the 2014 team. That year he had the third most tackles on the team with 50 and was second on the team with 9.5 tackles for a loss.

The linebacker position is similar to the quarterback position on offense, so a lot of the same reasons why A.J. Erdely is so important on offense are the same for Jones on defense.

The team will need someone on defense who has been in the trenches before and can be a leader. Jones meets those qualities as well as anyone on this team.

Not to mention, he’s one of the few who stuck around to see #theReturn. You have to think that a lot of people look up to him for that decision.

At the same time, Jones hasn’t played a meaningful football game in over two years. It could take some time for him to get into a groove.

In the spring game he had a solo tackle and an assisted tackle for a loss on a sack. I expect the coaches to be very aggressive in their use with Jones. At 6-foot-3, 250 pounds he can deliver a hit and do so with some speed.

There might be players on the UAB defense that put up better numbers than Jones, but no one will be more important than him because of the leadership and experience he brings.

Another linebacker from the 2014 team that will have a huge impact on this year’s defense is Tevin Crews. He had 33 tackles and 2 sacks back in 2014. Now as a senior, he and Jones will try to lead this defense.

Crews racked up 4 solo tackles in the spring game, leading the green team. If these two guys have great years, this UAB defense will as well.

Jones and Crews will have to be the life blood for UAB on defense. Others coming into this program will look to them to see what it means to be a UAB Blazer.

I think the UAB defense has a chance to be really good in 2017. In 2014 they gave up 29.9 points per game and 406 yards per game.

It might take them a few games to gel together, which you can say for just about anything on this team this year – but once they figure it out I see them at least duplicating those 2014 numbers.

How fast the defense comes together though will depend on Shaq Jones and Tevin Crews.