Alabama Football: An Early Preview of the Tide's Defensive Line for 2012
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The defensive line in a 3-4 defensive scheme is a thankless job. They have a huge responsibility and get the least amount of attention, but none of that matters to the Alabama boys.
When Nick Saban's defensive line does it right, they stop the run, and when Alabama stops the run the other team becomes one-dimensional.
And when a team becomes one-dimensional against the Tide, it is the kiss of death.
Alabama's defensive linemen have to be bigger, stronger and better than the typical defensive linemen in a 4-3 defense. That's a tough demand, and when they come through, the linebackers get all the credit.
Dont'a Hightower, though a great player, couldn't rack up 85 tackles without the defensive line funneling running backs into his face.
New defensive line coach Chris Rumph (from Clemson) did a stellar job in his first year with the Tide in 2011. They were the most dominant defensive line in the country despite their low sack number, and their top-ranked rush-defense speaks for itself.
Here's a preview of the next group to take the reins of Alabama's most unheralded squad with their future classes listed.
I'll give a few hints: There are some familiar faces; the projected starters are all seniors making for one of the most experienced defensive lines in the nation, and two of them were from junior colleges.
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Position: Right DE
Weight: 285 lbs.
Damion Square may be entering the 2012 season as the most capable—as well as the leanest—pass-rusher on the defensive line.
Pass-rushing is what Square is best-suited for, and that is why he will start on the weak side.
His pass-rushing ability, combined with the prowess of the new Jack linebacker (who I expect to be Xzavier Dickson), will pose a serious threat to all quarterbacks' blind sides.
Square achieved only one sack this year, but the Crimson Tide have a strong emphasis on the defensive line holding their ground, strangling the opposing offense with containment and letting the linebackers make a play.
2012 will be Square's second year as a starter, and I highly doubt he will tip the scales at 285 lbs. by the start of next season. With just enough muscle to improve his strength without hindering his speed and a career's worth of experience, he will become a powerful weapon.
Damion Square is going to quietly make the new Jack linebacker look really, really good.
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Position: Left DE
Weight: 294 lbs.
Quinton Dial originally committed to Alabama, but ended up at East Mississippi Junior College for two years. He played as a nose tackle there, but there is a better option for the Tide at nose tackle in 2012 (more on that in the next slide).
On the strong side of the defensive line, where pass-rushing can be more of a challenge, Dial should flourish in his first year as a starter.
The first thing that stands out about Dial is his size. He's not a 340 lb-mammoth, but his height alone is impressive enough.
Two things come to mind when you look at a wingspan like that:
First, Dial often won't have to completely shuck a block. His reach allows him to cover a longer range on the field, effectively narrowing running lanes for ball-carriers.
Running backs like Trent Richardson would pose a challenge, but those are few and far between. Besides, Dial could reach out and arm tackle standard-sized backs or at least make them question their direction. Nothing spells doom for a running back than stutter-stepping against the Tide.
Second, Dial's position on the strong side is ideal in passing situations. More often than not quarterbacks will have to throw past him. They will have to keep it high and tight, otherwise Dial could bat down a lot of balls should he increase his awareness.
Dial had some sportsmanship issues in 2011, which I covered in an older article, "Quinton Dial, Welcome to Nick Saban's Dog House."
I believe he will have worked past that.
Dial was a young JUCO transfer back then, eager to make a name for himself. I'm sure he understands how seriously Nick Saban takes penalties. The coach nearly popped a forehead-vein in anger after the first and only penalty late in the national title game against LSU for crying out loud.
I believe Dial will become the next starter, as he was the primary backup at the position this year. That doesn't guarantee him the job, however, as Undra Billingsley (who will also be a senior) is going to give everything he has to win the starting role.
They both have the experience, but Quinton Dial's physical gifts should give him the edge.
Weight: 319 lbs.
When you look at Jesse Williams, it's hard to believe he only weighs around 320 lbs. The secret is his lack of fat (or, to put it nicely, "bad body weight").
Sure, he's a little chubby—but what lineman isn't?
In running situations the nose tackle has to be completely dominant; he has to be stronger than the guys trying to block him. Quinton Dial may have been able to do that in junior college, but this is the SEC.
Williams is likely to be the strongest player on the defensive line and possibly the entire team—that is what you need as a nose guard, good technique and great brute strength. The nose tackle cannot have any difficulty whatsoever with taking on double-teams, especially in the SEC.
The nose tackle must do the same in passing situations, but he should be able to rush the passer. Rushing the passer was Josh Chapman's (the 2011 starter) weakness, and he had to be spelled by the squat Nick Gentry in passing situations.
Jesse Williams can hold his blocks to stuff the run and shed blocks to rush the passer.
Lack of depth at defensive end caused the necessity of playing Williams there in 2011, but he is a true nose tackle, and that is where he will play in 2012.
Of all the changes to the depth chart in 2012, there is none that I'm more sure of than Jesse Williams become the starting nose guard.
I've heard a few nicknames in the past for Jesse Williams, most relating to his native Australia; "Thunder From Down Under" and "The Awesome Aussie" are a couple. I call him the "Tattooed Terror," but that doesn't seem to fit either.
Who would have thought nicknaming a heavily tattooed pile of muscle with a Mohawk-mullet from Australia would be so challenging?
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Under Nick Saban, the Crimson Tide have not been known to start underclassmen on the defensive line. It's a more important squad to Saban than folks realize. (That is why Marcell Dareus didn't start over two seniors in 2009 despite leading the team in sacks.)
As such, I do not expect any underclassmen to compete for the starting positions on the defensive line.
However, here are two others who will make a serious push for the coveted role of starter.
Position: Left DE
Weight: 288 lbs.
Billingsley has been one of my "depth chart underdogs" for some time now, but his time is running out.
He'll be a senior next year. If Nick Saban saw enough potential in Billingsley, he would not have signed two junior college linemen, much less start them.
Billingsley is also undersized for a guy entering his senior year. The height is workable, but a 3-4 lineman under Nick Saban needs to crack 300 lbs. earlier than his senior year—or at least have the height to make up for it.
Undra Billingsley knows all this, I'm sure. He wears a crimson jersey, so I expect him to pound the heck out of the weight room as well as the practice field this spring and fall.
Position: Right DE
Weight: 279 lbs.
Stinson may be one of the most underrated backups on the team. If it weren't for Trent Richardson, Stinson could have been the biggest gym rat on the team.
Scout.com had him listed at 235 lbs. coming out of high school. Look at his weight now, only two years later—not a pound of that is fat, so you know this guy works his butt off.
Stinson is best-suited to play weak-side defensive end, and that is why he won't become the starter. He will give Damion Square his best in the battle for the starting position, but he will likely have to settle for backup duty.
That's not a death sentence, though, as defensive linemen require a lot of breaks to keep them fresh, and backups get a lot of playing time; Marcell Dareus was the defensive MVP in the 2010 championship game against Texas as a backup.
People still remember Stinson's dropped pass on a fake kick during a loss against South Carolina in the 2010 regular season, as does Stinson.
I'm certain his motivation is to make everyone forget all about that.
Stinson isn't a receiver—he's a defensive lineman. He's going to bust some chops.