EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first installment in a nine-part series looking ahead to the start of Alabama football’s fall practice. We start with a breakdown of the defensive line:
Two defensive ends with significant experience in 2017 will bookend the line this year. Raekwon Davis, a 6-foot-7 terror and potential first-round draft pick in 2019, has one side. Senior Isaiah Buggs has the other. They combined for 120 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and 10 sacks last season. Quinnen Williams also contributed with 6.5 tackles for loss and two sacks last year and could be ready for a larger role. Sophomore LaBryan Ray has added about 20 pounds since he arrived on campus according to the newly-released roster. He’s also a good bet to find his way into the rotation. Freshman Stephon Wynn has impressive size.
Redshirt senior Johnny Dwight will factor in at the nose tackle spot, though he’s not the only one. Junior college transfer Tevita Musika will be counted on for some time as well and could push for a starting job. Redshirt freshman Phidarian Mathis is another player who will likely get an opportunity in fall camp. It could be that one of Alabama’s ends spends time cross-training to play inside if coaches feel like that’s the way to put together the strongest unit. Freshman Christian Barmore was recruited by other major SEC programs and is a prospect to remember as well.
The loss of Da’Ron Payne won’t be an easy one to overcome. Payne developed into a reliable force against the run and the pass that allowed him to stay on the field no matter the situation. It’s nice to have returning players like Davis and Buggs, but depth here is key. Alabama’s defense can wear offensive linemen down by rotating one talented player in behind another. New defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski will have to find those players and decide on the best places where they fit. He arrives with a reputation for developing linemen at Miami and Missouri. That bodes well for this group’s future.