Since 2008, Nick Saban's Crimson Tide has had a top-10 ranked rushing defense. It was not until 2011 that they claimed the crown of No. 1. What's even scarier is that the line returns two of three starters next year.
In a continuing series where I examine each section of the future 2012 squad, this article will give an in-depth look at the upcoming defensive line starters (with their 2012 class listed) with some notes on potential backups.
Josh Chapman has been the starting nose guard for the Tide for two seasons, and is apparently the undisputed strongest member of the team. He will be graduating this year, but is certain to have a future in the NFL.
Nick Gentry has been Chapman's "backup." I use that term loosely, as Gentry has had nearly as much playing time. In passing situations Chapman hits the bench and Gentry comes in. He is the better pass rusher between the two.
Gentry's future is unclear, and while it may not be involved with the NFL, it's almost certain to involve college football. He is rumored to be somewhat of a football genius and may join the Tide next year as an assistant of some sort.
Damion Square has been a solid contributor for two years now. He played a big part in the 2010 squad's 10th-ranked rush defense, and has been even more important to this year's No. 1-ranked rush defense.
He has 30 total tackles this year, which leads all of Alabama's defensive linemen. It's quite a high number for a lineman in Kirby Smart's defensive scheme that favors linebackers.
He is third on the team in tackles for losses at seven, behind only Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower. He also has a single sack on his resume.
His numbers are almost identical to his production in 2010 (though he had three sacks that year), which is a testament to his consistency in keeping lanes free for the linebackers.
He was the clear-cut starter this year, and will hold onto that title next year. He will be the Tide's most experienced lineman and will be expected to provide the necessary leadership.
Quinton Dial, a junior college transfer from East Mississippi Community College, as been a key backup for the 2011 defensive line.
He is tall but very powerful, making him dangerous to run against on the outside. His wingspan makes running lanes smaller than they appear.
He's been very productive this year as a backup, tallying 19 tackles, three for a loss, and one sack.
He has three quarterback hurries, and a hurry is a very underrated stat. When you pressure the quarterback but don't come away with the sack, a bad throw is sometimes the result. Any coach will tell you they would rather come away with an interception over a sack.
Dial is expected to step into the starting left end role, and as Jesse Williams' replacement he is likely to not skip a beat, as that is the position he played this year.
Jesse Williams is another junior college transfer from Arizona Western Community College. He left Arizona Western to join the Tide this year along with recently deceased offensive tackle, Aaron Douglas.
As both starting nose guards Josh Chapman and Nick Gentry will be leaving there has been some concern about who will replace them. They need a big-bodied strong-man and someone who can rush the passer. Or one that can do both.
Well, Williams can do both. He not only has the strength to defend the run, but the agility to rush the passer as well. Unlike ex-Tide player Terrance Cody, however, Williams has one heck of a motor and can play every down.
Rumor has it that his dedication in the weight room is rivaled only by Trent Richardson.
Williams joined the Tide weighing around 330 lbs. Since then it can be safely assumed he added some muscle mass under a real training coach, Scott Cochran. He now weighs under 320 lbs. Williams didn't have much of a gut to begin with, something rare of a 300-plus lb. defensive lineman.
Williams' transition to nose guard should be seamless. He's always had the physical talent, but with a year of SEC experience under the tutelage of the Tide's excellent new defensive line coach, Chris Rumph out of Clemson, he'll have all the tools necessary to succeed.
He will not be leaving a glaring void in his old left end position with Quinton Dial taking the reins.
Defensive End Ed Stinson, Junior, 6'4", 279 lbs.
Stinson has been a solid backup for the Tide (17 tackles, 5 for loss, 1 sack). The projected starters ahead of him have a wealth of experience, but he may beat Quinton Dial out of the starting spot.
Defensive End Undra Billingsly, Senior, 6'2", 288 lbs.
Undra has been a backup for his career, and looks to maintain that role in his senior season. He has the ability to be productive, but has not had enough field time to prove his worth, with only four tackles in 2011. His experience will be valuable.
Nose Guard Brandon Ivory, Sophomore, 6'4", 308 lbs.
Ivory was a sleeper project coming to the Capstone as a relatively unknown. He was able to crack the depth chart in the game against Georgia Southern with Nick Gentry and Josh Chapman on suspension. He's dropped over 20 lbs. of fat since his 2010 red-shirt freshman year.