EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first installment in a series looking ahead to the start of Alabama football fall practice. Today, we look at the defensive line position.
There’s not many.
Alabama lost Quinnen Williams (third overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft) and Isaiah Buggs (drafted in the sixth round), two players that help solidify the defensive line in 2018. Those two accounted for 121 tackles and 16.5 sacks.
Defensive end Raekwon Davis, a senior and preseason All-SEC selection, turned down the NFL Draft and returned to Tuscaloosa and will be the one a young defensive line looks to for leadership.
The other defensive end spot will likely be filled by junior LaBryan Ray, who played in all 15 games last season, accounting for 39 tackles, including 2.5 sacks.
The Crimson Tide returning player with the most experience at nose tackle is sophomore Phidarian Mathis. Playing behind Williams last season, Mathis had just 18 total tackles.
Tevita Musika, a junior-college transfer who played sparingly last season, will likely compete with Mathis at nose tackle.
Stephon Wynn Jr., who was injured for much of fall camp in 2018 and played in three games as a freshman, was given a redshirt. Christian Barmore was also a freshman on the Crimson Tide roster last season but he did not see action and was redshirted. Both players spent time on the second string during spring practice in April.
What Alabama lacks in experienced returning linemen it makes up for with fresh faces. The 2019 signing class had six defensive linemen, one ranked as a five-star recruit (Antonio Alfano) and five ranked as four-stars.
Alfano, DJ Dale and Justin Eboigbe enrolled early and had impressive spring performances. Dale earned the Jerry Duncan ‘I like to Practice Award’ at the conclusion of spring workouts. All three worked with the third string during spring drills.
Three more freshmen that are expected to make a splash are Byron Young, Braylen Ingraham and Ishmael Sopsher.
Last season, for the first time in a while, depth was an issue for Alabama. There are plenty of athletic and talented defensive linemen on the roster this season, but not many with experience. The younger players will get opportunities in fall camp to show what they can do, but the key for Alabama is to find six guys that can be plugged in at any time and not miss a beat.
For three straight seasons the Crimson Tide has produced a defensive lineman that was taken in the first round of the NFL Draft (Jonathan Allen, 2017, 17th overall to the Redskins; Daron Payne, 2018, 13th overall to the Redskins; Quinnen Williams, 2018, third overall to the Jets). If Davis can turn in the type of season everyone expects him to, he could find himself going in the first round next May.