Both Isaiah Buggs and Raekwon Davis were mostly unknowns in August. Buggs was a junior college transfer, and Davis was a project player who had only played in blowouts as a freshman.
That won’t be how they’re viewed before the 2018 season.
Teams saw them coming by the end of the season. Davis finished third on the team with 69 tackles and was fifth in the SEC with 8.5 sacks. Buggs posted 51 tackles and had seven quarterback hurries. Opponents will be ready for them in the future.
“In the beginning of the season we didn’t have that many guys ready to play,” Buggs said before the Sugar Bowl. “Now, at the end of the season, in the playoff, I think everybody will have a big role to play.”
Buggs had eight tackles in the playoffs, including two tackles for loss and a sack. Davis had 10 tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks and a critical interception in the final two games.
“I had a great season, don’t get me wrong,” Davis said. “But I’m still not satisfied with where I’m at right now.”
One of his goals is to produce double-digit sacks next season. He’s already made a huge leap from when he arrived on campus as a highly-touted 6-7 defensive lineman. Buggs said one of Davis’ greatest strengths has been how coachable the young player has been.
He also has physical tools that few players have.
“When Raekwon got here he was 365,” defensive line coach Karl Dunbar said. “He’s 310 now. The sucker looks so good and he runs, his energy; I mean he’s explosive. As a coach teaching him how to play ball has been great because he wants to learn, he comes in and he works hard.”
Dunbar has experience working with jumbo-sized defensive linemen. He coached defensive tackle Kevin Williams (6-5/311) with the Minnesota Vikings and Mario Williams (6-6/290) with the Buffalo Bills.
Each of those players was already well into his NFL career when Dunbar came along, though. Davis presented a different opportunity.
“Raekwon, he’s special,” Dunbar said. “He does some great things. He’s learning how to play ball, and that’s the fun thing when you’ve got that kind of clay as a 17-, 18-year-old kid, and you can mold it into the kind of guy that you want him to be.”
Davis said Minkah Fitzpatrick was the player he learned the most from this season. The defensive back may play a different position, but his work ethic, consistency and focus showed Davis what it takes to be successful.
Buggs learned from Fitzpatrick, too. He also cited safety Ronnie Harrison and defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne as players he looked up to. They had the kind of success he hopes to have in his career.
“The main thing is to be able to leave my print here, win a national championship and put my name in the stones in the ground,” Buggs said. “When I come back 10 to 15 years from now, I can say I played for Alabama and played for the greatest coach in the world: Nick Saban.”
Buggs and Davis both had the opportunity to do that this season. Next season may bring the duo even more chances to show what they can do.
Reach Ben Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0196.