Out of Curiosity | Recruiting Defensive Linemen is Kind of a Crapshoot

Recently someone made a comment about how the defensive line is the hardest positions to evaluate and recruit, especially when running a 3-4 defense, making the struggles of the 2010 d-line and current worries over the 2011 line a mere result of what is basically a recruiting crapshoot.  Nick Saban's recent comments concerning a lack of "dominating down guys" tends to back that up considering, of the four recruiting classes he has signed at Alabama that have had an opportunity to play, only a couple of players stand out among the 27 total d-line signees.  So let's go through the defensive line recruits from each year and try to figure out if that's a reasonable position to take.

2007

Jeremy Elder - **
2007 - Never saw the field. Can't remember why, though...

Alex Watkins - ****
2007 - Redshirt
2008 - Did not play
2009 - Moved to linebacker

Chavis Williams - ***
2007 - Moved to linebacker immediately, has been reasonably productive as a backup (even starting some games last season).

Josh Chapman - ***
2007 - Played in the 1st three games as a true freshman before injuries sidelined him.  Was granted a medical redshirt.
2008 - played in 13 games, starting two, and was the preferred NG on passing downs behind Terrence Cody.
2009 - played in 13 games and was, again, the top backup at NG behind Cody.
2010 - started 12 games and played in all 13.  Has recorded 65 tackles in 42 career games.

Luther Davis - ****
2007 - Appeared in six games, but only recorded statistics against Western Carolina.
2008 - Played in all 14 games as a backup behind Brandon Deaderick.
2009 - Played in all 14 games as a backup, made 11 tackles.
2010 - Played in 12 games with 21 total tackles as a part time starter.

Nick Gentry - ***
2007 - Saw time against Georgia, received medical redshirt.
2008 - Saw time in nine games, mostly on special teams.
2009 - Appeared in four games with seven tackles.
2010 - Played in all 13 games with 14 total tackles, has carved out a niche role as a 3rd down NG.

Alfred McCullough - ****
2007 - Played in the opener against Western Carolina, making one stop and recovering one fumble.
2008 - Moved to offensive line where he has stayed.

Kerry Murphy - ****
2007 - Did not qualify, attended Hargrave Military Academy.

Verdict for 2007: Three out of eight signees (Chapman, Davis, and Gentry) have ultimately been productive for the defense, with Chavis Williams contributing at LB.

2008

Undra Billingsley - ***
2008 - Redshirt
2009 - Moved to TE
2010 - Played on special teams and saw some time as a reserve, making one tackle in the opener against San Jose State and one in the Capital One Bowl against Michigan State.  This kid hates Spartans.

Glenn Harbin - ***
2008 - Redshirt
2009 - Did not play
2010 - May have played (honestly don't remember), but did not record any statistics. Subsequently decided to try his hand at baseball, is no longer listed on the football roster.

Brandon Lewis - ****
2008 - Did not qualify, enrolled at East Mississippi Community College

Michael Williams - ****
2008 - Redshirt
2009 - Moved to TE

Terrence Cody - ***
2008 - Became a legend.
2009 - Became an even bigger legend.

Marcell Dareus - ***
2008 - Played in 8 games, made only four tackles but was clearly working his way into the rotation as a true freshman.
2009 - Played in all 14 games, starting four.  Destroyed Colt McCoy's body and Garrett Gilbert's soul.
2010 - Sat out a two game suspension to start the year, but started the final 11 games.  Led the d-linemen with 34 total tackles. 

Kerry Murphy - ****
2008 - Redshirt
2009 - Saw time in six games as a backup, had three tackles and a QB hurry.
2010 - Played in 12 games, starting six, registering nine total tackles.  Has been placed on medical scholarship and will not play in 2011.

Damion Square - ***
2008 - Redshirt
2009 - Played in first two games before an injury sidelined him the rest of the season. Was quickly becoming a regular part of the Tide's 3rd down package.
2010 - Played in all 13 games, starting six, and totaling 27 tackles.

Verdict for 2008: Two out of eight signees, Cody and Dareus, managed to produce at a high level while Kerry Murphy and Damian Square managed to carve out niche roles.

2009

William Ming - ****
2009 - Redshirt
2010 - Saw action against Georgia State, did not record a statistic.

Anthony Orr - ***
2009 - "Greyshirt"
2010 - Redshirt

Ed Stinson - ****
2009 - Redshirt
2010 - Played in nine games with two starts and 14 total tackles.

Chris Bonds - ***
2009 - Redshirt
2010 - Saw action against Georgia State, did not record a statistic.

Quinton Dial - ****
2009 - Did not qualify, enrolled at East Mississippi Community College (has re-signed in the 2011 class).

Darrington Sentimore - ****
2009 - Redshirt
2010 - Played in 11 games with 9 total tackles. Is indefinitely suspended and no longer listed on the roster, likely to transfer before the start of the season.

Verdict for 2009: Only Sentimore managed to see any real playing time, and he's all but gone. 

2010

Alfy Hill - ****
2010 - Royall screwed by the NCAA, has yet to make it to campus.

Adrian Hubbard - ****
2010 - Redshirt

Wilson Love - ***
2010 - Redshirt

Brandon Ivory - ***
2010 - Redshirt

Brandon Lewis - ***
2010 - Re-signed with Alabama after a year at the JUCO level, then redshirted.

Verdict for 2010: Still too early to tell.

Overall Verdict

Factoring out the players that never made it to Tuscaloosa (Alfy Hill and Jeremy Elder) and the double dipping non-qualifiers that ultimately re-signed (Brandon Lewis and Kerry Murphy), in his first four recruiting classes Nick Saban has signed 23 defensive linemen that have thus far had an opportunity to play at Alabama.  Of those 23, only Marcell Dareus and Terrence Cody can legitimately be considered "dominant," while both Josh Chapman and Luther Davis played at a high enough level to be considered solid linemen. Finally, Nick Gentry, Kerry Murphy, Damian Square, and Darrington Sentimore have all at least shown an ability to play specific roles in the rotation, though none have shown enough to suggest they could become every down linemen. That's eight out of 23 players signed that have produced at at least at a role players level, and five of them are no longer on the team.  Let that sink in.  Or don't.  Probably better if you don't.

Some thoughts on all of this:

- Alabama has recruited at a very high level since Saban's arrival, and the defensive line is no different.  Of the 33 total linemen he has signed (which includes the 2011 class), 20 have been four star recruits, with all but one of the rest (Jeremy Elder, who was a holdover Shula recruit whose scholarship offer was honored by the new staff) being three star guys.  Interestingly, of the four most consistent linemen mentioned above (Cody, Dareus, Chapman, and Davis), only Luther Davis was a four star.

- Even though we've recruited at a consistently high level, we've yet to land that "can't miss" player on the defensive line.  We've had plenty of "sure thing" signees at every other position that lived up to their recruiting hype (Julio, Trent Richardson, Dee Milliner, D.J. Fluker, etc.), but so far have whiffed on the handful of marquee d-linemen that we've really gone after.  Robert Quinn ended up at North Carolina, Jadeveon Clowney landed at South Carolina, and etc. 

- I wonder how much of that has to do with the defense we run?  Sure, we can sell the "pro-style defense" angle all we want, but when it comes down to it the 3-4 defense is a linebackers defense, and I bet every other coach is filling their ears with "don't go to Alabama, all you do is get beat up every down while the LBs get all the numbers."  And to be perfectly frank, that's true.  If these kids want to get a bunch of sacks and tackles for loss, they'll be better off with a team that runs a 4-3.

- Further, because of the unique requirements of the down linemen in a 3-4 defense, and the frequency with which we like to rotate the down linemen, how much of our recruiting efforts are geared towards those "super stud" linemen and how much is just getting fresh bodies that can handle taking a beating?  A guy like Terrence Cody is always going to be questioned by scouts because of his size and the perceived lack of athleticism that goes with it, but when you're just supposed to occupy double teams, push the pocket, and spill running plays to the outside instead of trying to be a disruptive force in the backfield, well, that's perfect.

- What effect will new line coach Chris Rumph have?  He comes from a 4-3 background, and since we've got DEs coming out of our ears and I wonder how much of his hire was based on his working with good pass rushing DEs?  An explosive edge rushing DE is something we haven't had outside of Marcell Dareus (and he moved back and forth between DE and DT himself), but we've recruited plenty of guys who should have fit that bill by now.  Word is Adrian Hubbard is coming along nicely, but some of these other guys are simply going to have to step up and start producing. 

Put it all together and unfortunately right now I think it's safe to put our defensive line woes on a lot of recruits who simply haven't panned out thus far.  Fingers crossed the light goes on for a couple of them this season, otherwise we could be in big trouble.

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