This is the fifth installment in a seven-part series looking ahead to the start of Alabama’s fall camp football practice. We continue with a breakdown of the defensive line.
It’s perhaps the biggest question mark of the season, how the defensive line will look without Jonathan Allen and Dalvin Tomlinson, two of the most productive players in the defensive trenches in the country in 2016. UA head coach Nick Saban doesn’t do comparisons, and he won’t ask any defensive lineman to be the next Allen or Tomlinson. It’s unreasonable to expect the same results from this year’s defensive line simply because last year’s group was so dominant. However, a huge drop-off isn’t expected from the unit either.
Any analysis of the defensive line must start with Da’Ron Payne. The 6-foot-2, 319-pound defensive tackle has shown his enormous talent for two seasons. In those seasons, he’s been a run-stuffing strongman nearly impossible to move at times. This season, Payne will be asked to be a three-down presence on the Alabama defensive line, something he has the skills to do given his athleticism for his size. Da’Shawn Hand will also play a major role in how the defensive line shapes up. Hand played in all 15 games a season ago, compiling 3.5 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks. Josh Frazier, Raekwon Davis and Johnny Dwight will be counted on to give valuable snaps as well.
There will be fewer experienced players teamed with newcomers who will also be tasked with making a contribution this season. Redshirt freshman Quinnen Williams — 6-4, 285 pounds — has earned positive reviews, as has true freshman LaBryan Ray, the top-ranked player in the state of Alabama in the recruiting class of 2017. Junior college transfer Isaiah Buggs will be expected to jump right in and join the rotation. Saban recruits junior college players to contribute immediately. Phidarian Mathis is another true freshman to watch.
The production from the defensive line last year was remarkable. The group set the stage for the defense to lead the country in total yards allowed per play (3.99), rushing yards allowed per play (2.01) and scoring defense (13 points per game). The unit also helped the defense lead the team in sacks (54). Defensive line coach Karl Dunbar returns for his second season, and he’ll have a few veterans to mix in with the inexperienced players.
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