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Alabama football will be looking for defensive linemen to step up in 2020

Brett Hudson
The Tuscaloosa News

This story originally published Aug. 12, 2020.

The 2019 season was a year of the replacement for the University of Alabama’s defensive line. It had an offseason to replace Quinnen Williams and Isaiah Buggs, then had to replace defensive end starter LaBryan Ray three games into the season and nose guard starter DJ Dale later.

The answers came mostly by committee and mostly from freshmen.

UA has become known for a deep rotation along its defensive line, but the limited snap counts tend to produce stars, as they did for Quinnen Williams and Jonathan Allen in recent years. There are plenty of candidates to fill UA’s rotation, but what remains to be seen is which one, if any, emerges as a star in the making (if there is a 2020 football season at all).

Based on experience alone, Ray is most likely to be the standout on this year’s line. He was third among defensive linemen on UA’s 2018 team in tackles for a loss (six) and was off to a strong start in 2019 when a foot injury ended his season. Ray is also one of just two upperclassmen in the position group, joined by fellow redshirt junior Phidarian Mathis.

Alabama defensive lineman LaBryan Ray (89) dives for Louisiana running back Trey Ragas (9) at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Saturday September 29, 2018.
Alabama defensive lineman LaBryan Ray (89) blocks during a kick against Arkansas during second half action in Fayetteville, Ark., on Saturday October 6, 2018.

Byron Young, Justin Eboigbe, Dale and Christian Barmore are all sophomores (Barmore a redshirt sophomore) that got significant playing time last season; Braylen Ingraham and Stephon Wynn Jr. also played in their freshman seasons, but were able to maintain redshirt seasons in 2019.

When healthy, Dale spent more time on the field than any of them, but Young and Eboigbe both played a big role in replacing Ray. Barmore proved to be effective in his role of interior pass rusher, and developing himself as a run stopper would make him the complete threat that can have a transcendent sophomore season.

Mathis’ path to a breakout season is eased by his versatility, his ability to play both nose guard and defensive end; he did both as UA tried to cover injuries last season.

If Alabama gets to have a preseason practice regimen that’s followed by a regular season, it has a handful of defensive linemen that stand to benefit from playing time gained as freshmen. The opportunity could catapult one or more from role players to stardom.

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or bhudson@tuscaloosanews.com or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson