Alabama football: Jamil Burroughs steps into bigger role on defensive line in Ray's absence

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports

Replacing LaBryan Ray is more than replacing Alabama’s most experienced defensive linemen and its best defensive end. UA has an abundance of defensive ends, many of them having gained experience playing in Ray’s absence last season.

The hard part of replacing Ray is replacing his versatility. For that, UA turned to a freshman.

Before missing the Georgia game with a sprained elbow, Ray had shown the ability and willingness to play both defensive end and nose guard, playing the latter to provide UA rotation behind DJ Dale. Freshman Jamil Burroughs was UA’s choice; he had not played at all in the first three games, but saw snaps as early as the second quarter in the win over Georgia.

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His role could continue into Saturday’s game at Tennessee, with Ray’s status uncertain.

“He was doing a great job on the scout team, they were having a tough time blocking him over there,” UA coach Nick Saban said. “So we said, ‘Who’s next man up?’ We’re going to try to continue to work him in, and hopefully he can continue to make progress.”

Jamil Burroughs at practice. (Photo: Kent Gidley)

Burroughs’ ascension to the coaching staff’s trust is not a new phenomenon. He and Tim Smith, the other freshmen who saw some snaps against Georgia, have been working their way to this since preseason practice.

“Tim Smith, extremely good person, great player,” UA center Landon Dickerson said on Sept. 17. “Burroughs, (Pickens County native Jah-Marien) Latham, a lot of those young guys are really starting to get adjusted to college. It does take a little time.”

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Neither Burroughs nor Smith produced a statistic against Georgia.

Burroughs earning playing time as early as he did continues a trend of underrated defensive linemen being the ones who see the field immediately. Last year, Dale was the lowest-rated of the four defensive linemen in UA’s recruiting class, but he was the only one to earn a start in the season opener. From the 2018 class, Christian Barmore (No. 176 prospect in the nation) has earned more early playing time than Stephon Wynn Jr. (No. 74).

Burroughs was the lowest-rated of three defensive line signees in the 2020 class.

Now, Burroughs tries to find a place in a pecking order that remains uncertain. Dale remains the starter while Barmore develops as a nose guard and Mathis rotates between the two positions; if Burroughs proves to be a valuable addition to the rotation, that could enable Mathis (and to a lesser extent Barmore) to spend more time at defensive end.

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