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The search for depth is key to Alabama football's defensive line

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports

Brian Baker’s lone year as Alabama’s defensive line coach was not a fun one. His two-deep featured two freshmen for every upperclassman, and two of his three Week 1 starters were injured by the end of the season, both unavailable for the Iron Bowl and the Citrus Bowl.

Freddie Roach may reap the rewards of that experience.

UA’s new defensive line coach has a far more experienced unit to work with than his predecessor, one that should be part of UA’s improvement as a run defense.

Players: Redshirt junior LaBryan Ray, sophomore DJ Dale, sophomore Byron Young, sophomore Justin Eboigbe, redshirt junior Phidarian Mathis, redshirt sophomore Christian Barmore, redshirt freshman Ishmael Sopsher, redshirt freshman Braylen Ingraham, redshirt sophomore Stephon Wynn Jr., freshman Jah-Marien Latham, freshman Tim Smith, freshman Jamil Burroughs.

2019 stat: Last season was the first time since 2013 that UA didn’t have at least one defensive lineman with 10 or more tackles for a loss. The leader among defensive linemen was Christian Barmore with six; 20 SEC defensive linemen had more than that.

Storyline: After a 2019 season with an unusually shallow rotation of defensive linemen, there is no guarantee 2020 is a bounce back year.

If completely healthy, UA could have maintained an eight-man rotation, but since health eluded the Crimson Tide, it was often down to just six: Young, Eboigbe, Mathis, Barmore and the since departed Raekwon Davis and Tevita Musika, while Dale and Ray were injured.

Even with Dale and Ray back, UA started preseason camp with the six-man rotation that proved insufficient in 2019. It will need more competent bodies to be the agent of change in the run game it wants to be.

Ingraham, Wynn Jr. and Sopsher all got late-game reps last season. Smith, Latham and Burroughs have all joined the team as true freshmen, all of them bringing enough weight to survive on a college football: Latham is the lightest at 285, below Smith at 320 and Burroughs at 326.

If more than one of them do not find immediate roles in Alabama’s rotation, it could have a similar depth issue in 2020, and UA defensive coordinator Pete Golding has already stressed the importance of depth.

“Obviously you always want depth and you’re worried about the two-deep or maybe a swing here or there but the way the CDC is now and testing and all that, heaven forbid something happens, multiple guys could go down,” Golding said. “So I think the way we practice and how Coach (Nick Saban) structures practice really helps us from a depth standpoint, because whether you’re a one or you’re a four, you’re getting the same amount of reps.”

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