This is the fourth in a six-part series looking ahead to the start of Alabama’s spring football practice. In this breakdown: the defensive line.
It’s without question the biggest position in need of growth and development throughout the spring, summer and fall camp. Not because the talent isn’t there. Only because of the caliber of players lost the last two seasons, including A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed, D.J. Pettway, Darren Lake, Jonathan Allen and Dalvin Tomlinson. Light defensive line recruiting classes the last two seasons leaves Alabama without as much depth as we’ve seen in the past. However, Da’Shawn Hand and Da’Ron Payne are as talented as any defensive line in the country. But where the unit will be measured will be how quickly others can assimilate themselves into the group to provide much-needed depth. The defensive line has been a strength for the team the previous three years. How quickly that unit can develop depth might determine how efficient the defense will be in 2017.
Intrigue level: 5
*Intrigue level is rated on a scale of 1-5 based on competition, number of starting spots available at a respective position and growth needed for a position
The defensive ends
Hand came to Alabama as the top-rated high school football player in the country. The 6-foot-4, 282-pounder has never been shouldered with pressure to help set the tone for the unit. That changes this season. He’ll be the guy the younger players look to when seeking an example. Raekwon Davis is literally the big man in the group at 6-foot-7, 303 pounds. He will be asked to play a bigger role after a freshman season in which he played in seven of 15 games. Grabbing Isaiah Buggs from the junior college ranks for the 2017 recruiting class was a major coup for Nick Saban and the defensive staff. Buggs will try to be as productive as the Crimson Tide’s last junior college defensive lineman to make an impact, Jarran Reed. Redshirt freshman Quinnen Williams is one player to watch to see how much he developed in 2016. Williams has earned positive remarks behind the scenes, and he’ll be needed to play a role this season.
The nose guards
Payne is the best defensive lineman on the team, and, arguably, in the conference. His size, strength and agility set him apart from others. The junior is a force in the middle. He has the ability to take on two blocks to free up his linebackers or use his athleticism to get after the quarterback. The back-up is Josh Frazier who will be asked to log more minutes this season.
There’s no getting around it. The depth isn’t where the defensive coaching staff would like it to be. However, there is enough talent for the unit to be quite good this season. It will need such good fortune in staying healthy along with some inexperienced players getting up to speed. Much like Ryan Anderson and Denzel Devall assisted the defensive line in years past with the ability to put a hand down and rush, outside linebacker Anfernee Jennings could provide assistance in the way of another body. Depending on how quickly he develops, Terrell Hall could fit that bit as well. Even with better depth last season, Clemson’s 99 plays ran against the defense in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game showed how a team can never have enough depth. That’s what Alabama will work for this spring and fall.
Reach Aaron Suttles at email@example.com or at 205-722-0229.