Alabama Football: Spring Practice Preview for the Tide's Defensive Line
Leon Halip/Getty Images
The latest edition of my spring practice preview series delving into each unit of Alabama's roster will put the defensive line in the crosshairs.
The loss of three of the unit’s top contributors from last season makes that position one of the main storylines fans will be monitoring when practices begin on March 16.
Nick Saban will be looking for some new faces to emerge this spring to fill the spots held by outgoing seniors Jesse Williams, Damion Square and Quinton Dial.
The Tide have finished in the Top 10 nationally in rushing defense every season since 2008—including leading the country in that category in each of the last two years. For a team looking to capture its third consecutive national title, identifying new playmakers up front defensively is a high priority for Saban and his staff.
However, some of the faces—like juniors Brandon Ivory and Jeoffrey Pagan—are talented linemen who have patiently waited for their moment to crack the starting lineup.
Ed Stinson, a defensive end who is the only returning starter from the Tide’s front three, is an experienced anchor who will be counted upon to provide a steadying force for a unit undergoing a makeover.
Which players are penciled in as starters entering the spring, and which potential newcomers have a chance to make the biggest splash in the upcoming practices?
Find out in this spring practice primer for Alabama’s defensive line.
USA TODAY Sports
Defensive End – Jeoffrey Pagan, Junior
Nose Tackle – Brandon Ivory, Junior
Defensive End – Ed Stinson, Senior
With Stinson’s spot likely the only one set in stone at this point, players like LaMichael Fanning, Darren Lake and a host of other talented defensive linemen from the past two recruiting classes are sure to engage in some spirited battles for the right to log extensive minutes in the fall.
Due to their contributions in meaningful action over the last two seasons, Ivory (at nose tackle) and Pagan (at defensive end) will likely begin the spring as the pole-sitters for their respective positions.
Fanning and Lake represent a pair of younger talents who have flashed some potential. They can make the players above them on the depth charts a bit nervous if they are able to turn in a strong showing in the upcoming practices.
Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart are proponents of moving players around and experimenting in the spring. With several new big bodies to choose from, this tentative list of starters could look much different by the time the A-Day game rolls around.
3. Biggest Spring Battle
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Backup Nose Tackle–Darren Lake vs. the field (Wilson Love, Korren Kirven, Dakota Ball, Dalvin Tomlinson, etc.)
Lake—the only one of four defensive line prospects in the 2012 recruiting class who did not redshirt—and Love are two players who could theoretically challenge Brandon Ivory for the starting position.
However, the coaching staff will get a chance to see what players like Kirven, Ball and Tomlinson can do with plenty of meaningful reps to go around.
While Jesse Williams was clearly the top interior lineman on the squad a year ago, 2013 could signal a switch to the committee approach with plenty of bodies on hand.
Love was impressive in last season’s A-Day game, and another strong spring could help him stave off the quartet of 2012 class members until the fall.
After appearing in eight games last season, Lake enters the spring with the best chance to sew up a spot in the rotation.
2. Impact Newcomer
USA TODAY Sports
Impact Newcomer–Dalvin Tomlinson
A knee injury suffered during a soccer contest in his senior season of high school cost Tomlinson a chance to contribute last fall (h/t, Don Kausler, Jr., al.com).
But that didn’t stop the Georgia native from making a good first impression on Saban, according to Chase Goodbread of the Tuscaloosa News.
While Tomlinson may not have the size of fellow 2012 defensive line recruits Darren Lake, Korren Kirven or Dakota Ball, his quickness off the snap has already caught the attention of the coaching staff.
Tomlinson, who came in listed at 266 pounds, is listed as a defensive tackle, but his build may help him become a versatile player who could contribute at any one of the three spots on the line.
With more firepower arriving from the 2013 class in the summer, the time is now for each 2012 class member to make a move in the spring.
1. Grade on the Strength of the Defensive Line Entering Spring
Crystal Logiudice-USA TODAY Sports
Grade on Strength of Defensive End Unit–B+
Grade on Strength of Defensive Tackle Unit–B
Since Saban has taken over at Alabama, the defensive ends in the Tide’s 3-4 alignment have rarely been held in high regard as pass-rushers. Instead, the outside ends are counted upon to generate a push and occupy blockers while maintaining their respective gaps.
Quinton Dial and Damion Square were more dependable than dominant, and while their losses will be felt, the argument can be made that players like Jeoffrey Pagan and LaMichael Fanning possess more natural pass-rushing ability.
Senior Ed Stinson is a two-year starter who embodies the standard of what is expected of the younger players ready to compete for playing time.
Brandon Ivory logged significant minutes last season as the main backup to the departed Jesse Williams, and the 315-pound junior fits the mold of strong and wide bodies that the Tide has traditionally preferred to man the middle of the line.
Similar to the defensive end position, what the newcomers to the position lack in experience, they appear to make up for with natural ability.
While the names on the back of the jerseys have changed, and there are some holes to be filled, there’s more than enough talent on hand for the Tide to field a unit capable of maintaining the line’s lofty standards.