TideSports College Football Preview

Position coach: Karl Dunbar (second year)

Returning starters: NT Da’Ron Payne

Starters lost: DE Jonathan Allen, DE Dalvin Tomlinson

Top candidates

There’s a serious search for new names to step up in 2017 with only Da’Ron Payne being a fixture from a year ago. There was a great deal of speculation about just how valuable senior defensive end Da’Shawn Hand might be before camp started, for some reason, There has been less talk since practice started, but Hand fulfilling the expectations of a former No. 1 high school prospect matters. Raekwon Davis, a sophomore, must also start to match the hype, although he is still early in his development. Josh Frazier is another veteran who needs to step up and provide Payne some sweet relief from time to time. For the rest of the unit, only game experience will tell the story.

Newcomer to watch

You don’t bring in junior college players to sit and watch at a position of need, so junior Isaiah Buggs, a 292-pound end from Ruston, La., is being counted on to push Davis at his position. Buggs was one of Alabama’s most touted recruiting successes a year ago.

You need to know

Alabama has had two keys to defensive line success under Nick Saban. Great talent comes first, but it has also had tremendous depth. Finding enough players to go eight or nine deep is going to depend on names like Quinnen Williams and Johnny Dwight emerging during the season.


Payne may be the lone indispensable player on the Crimson Tide roster. There’s not a sure-fire replacement no matter how Alabama shuffles the deck, and that’s even allowing for help from a freshman or two, either LaBryan Ray or Phildarian Mathis, or both. Otherwise, as Saban says, fatigue becomes an issue because “when those big guys run out of gas, it takes a lot longer for them to recover.”

Key stat

Alabama did not allow a 100-yard rusher last season –or a 90-yard rusher — or an 80-yard rusher. Keith Ford of Texas A&M had the best rushing day against Alabama, gaining 62 yards on 15 carries.


“Da’Ron is a freak. He runs like a 4.9 (40-yard dash) and he weighs more than me and is a stud in the weight room. We’ve seen other guys like that, like A’Shawn (Robinson,) I went up against him. I haven’t had it easy here.”
— Alabama offensive lineman Ross Pierschbacher