Most of the celebration after a 49-7 non-conference win was a mob around a freshman defensive lineman who’s not on the two-deep depth chart.
Christian Barmore had an admirable moment to end the blowout, getting the tackle on the final three plays of the game, one of them for a loss and the other two for little gain. After forced to miss the first half due to a targeting ejection in the South Carolina game, the surge from Barmore was a pleasant sight for his teammates, especially the two dozen that mobbed him after the third tackle.
Alabama players were HYPED for Christian Barmore’s return! pic.twitter.com/IOq7dYT3vz
— TideSports.com (@TideSports) September 21, 2019
“We’re excited for him because he’s a guy that gets everybody going, he’s a motor for us as a team, really, and as a defense when he’s out there,” defensive back Xavier McKinney said. “We’re excited when he makes plays.”
Barmore may soon be needed as more than a feel-good moment at the end of a blowout.
The University of Alabama football team has displayed more faith in the depth of its defensive line over the last two weeks, but the injury to starting nose guard D.J. Dale shows that extra depth can be eradicated at any moment. UA coach Nick Saban expects Dale to be fine after day-to-day management of practice workload, but it places even further emphasis on an already crucial development project.
“We got to try to get them to play to a standard and then to understand what the standard that we play to around here is in terms of their ability to execute, the toughness that they play with, the effort that they give, all these things,” Saban said earlier in the week. “I don’t think you can teach experience, but I do think you can teach people the standard and the expectation and we have an expectation that these guys are going to play just like everybody else, and that’s what we’re working toward. Those are the habits that we’re trying to create.”
Saban said as much about the young defensive linemen now being called upon for more in the absence of starter LaBryan Ray, who will be out for a minimum of five more weeks after surgery on his foot. UA will certainly be without him for the upcoming games against Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Tennessee and Arkansas, and could be without him against LSU and beyond depending on how he reacts to rehab.
Freshman Justin Eboigbe replaced Ray in the starting lineup and produced three tackles, but UA turned more to its second-string of Phidarian Mathis and Byron Young than it had earlier this season. As recently as the season opener against Duke, Mathis played just four first-half snaps and Young did not play at all in the first half; against Southern Miss, Young played 15 snaps and Mathis played seven. Young played eight in the first quarter alone.
It is possible the more evenly distributed playing time is simply a reaction to life without Ray: the gap between Ray and his backups may be big enough to justify the rep difference, more so than the gap between Eboigbe and Young. In any event, a five-man rotation is passable in certain circumstances, but in Ray’s absence, a minor injury such as Dale’s can quickly bring UA back down to four men to rotate.
In the later stages of Saturday’s game, linemen including Barmore and Tevita Musika entered the game. If Dale’s injury is worse than originally suspected, or if something like it happens again in the weeks of Ray’s absence, they may be needed immediately.
If so, the rest of the Alabama defense will place faith in its next-man-up mentality.
“I think all around the board, we’re ready to play, no matter who that is,” McKinney said. “A lot of people are eager, the people that don’t play. So when they do have a chance to play, they get out there and make the most out of their opportunity. We hold everybody to the same standard.”
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or email@example.com or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson