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DJ Dale hopeful for full, improved 2020 season as Alabama football's nose guard

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports
Alabama defensive lineman DJ Dale (94) dives to try to tackle LSU quarterback Joe Burrow (9) during the first half of Alabama's game with LSU Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]

DJ Dale’s knees – and mind – are ready for his sophomore season.

Alabama made Dale its starting nose guard as a freshman last season, but injuries kept him from holding that job over a full campaign. He mustered 17 tackles, three for loss, with a sack, a quarterback hurry and a fumble recovery in 10 games. Dale hopes healthy legs and a developed mind lead to a full season of more productivity in 2020.

“My knees are great,” Dale said. “We have a great staff, and they did a real good job of making me comfortable and getting me back healthy. It’s very exciting, because I was out for a very long time.”

Dale’s first injury, to his ankle, came in the fourth game against Southern Miss, one week after recording a sack against South Carolina in his first SEC game and first road game. Dale was able to play through that injury, contributing against Ole Miss and Tennessee.

The second injury, to his knee, was more severe. Dale missed the final two games of the regular season, and UA coach Nick Saban said Dale did not respond well to treatment leading up to the Citrus Bowl, forcing him to miss that game, too.

As he worked his knees back to health, Dale advanced his development in a different way.

“The mental aspect. For me being injured and stuff, I had to spend a lot more time in the film room,” Dale said. “Being able to recognize formations and stuff like that, I feel like that’ll give me a better chance this year.”

Dale is part of a big group of underclassmen defensive linemen expected to make big strides in 2020 to help the team’s run defense while making up for lost pass rushers. Byron Young and Justin Eboigbe, not hindered by injuries, got plenty of playing time as true freshmen last season; Christian Barmore, now a redshirt sophomore, earned situational playing time last year and hopes to play more in 2020.

The partial 2020 season was enough for Dale to learn one thing for certain about starting in the SEC.

“Everyday in practice, prepare yourself mentally and physically because the competition is outstanding,” he said.

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