After looking at the additions from the 2012 recruiting class to the offense and the defensive backfield, let's now focus attention on the defensive line, where Alabama added five signees.
With the departure of both Josh Chapman and Nick Gentry, the nose guard position becomes the biggest concern in the defensive front seven with the new season on the horizon. Chapman finally made the jump from a solid player to a gamechanger a year ago, anchoring the 3-4 base as a dominant force in the run game while providing a surprisingly effective pass rush, while Gentry yet again proved to be an effective spot player by utilizing his quickness at the point of attack. This past season, Alabama used a rotation of Chapman and Gentry at the nose, and with Jesse Williams moving down when the Tide went to a four-man line, that group effectively solidified the interior of the defensive line.
Moving into 2012, however, 'Bama loses what was arguably its only true nose guard on the roster. Jesse Williams would ideally remain at the combo end-tackle position, and no one really knows how effective Brandon Ivory could be at this point in his career. Ivory certainly has the raw size necessary to play the nose, but he was signed as a long-term developmental project and relying on him could prove tricky. He held up well last year in some semi-emergency duty against Georgia Southern, but the SEC gauntlet isn't exactly Georgia Southern, so Ivory still has much to prove against high-end competition.
Fortunately, Alabama did sign Alphonse Taylor in the 2012 recruiting class, flipping the longtime Florida State commitment late in the process. At 6'6 and 350 pounds, Taylor has the raw size necessary to play the position, and he was recruited for that express purpose. He might need to slim down slightly and his snap count could be limited if conditioning is an issue, but Taylor did enroll early and that should give him immense advantage in getting on the field early. Admittedly playing a true freshman on the interior line is a daunting proposition, but again Taylor has the combination of raw size and talent that is largely missing at the nose guard position for Alabama, and as such the odds are good that Taylor is forced into action sooner rather than later. It would be a surprise to see Taylor redshirt, and if he did so it would likely mean bad things for all parties involved.
Darren Lake, a 6'3 and 330 pound signee out of tiny York, Alabama, was also added to help solidify the defensive interior. Lake is a different build than Taylor in the sense that he is more of a short, stocky type, and frankly if he were a couple of inches shorter he would be built almost identical to the outgoing Chapman. He does bring better pass rushing skills to the table than what you would expect from someone his size, so it's also possible that Lake could eventually end up playing the combo end-tackle position. Having played against a much lower level of competition, however, Lake figures to have a much more trying acclimation process to the college game, and unlike Taylor he will not report until this summer. It wouldn't be a shock to see him be forced into action this fall simply due to the overall shortage of depth at the nose guard position, but admittedly that wouldn't be an ideal situation for either him or Alabama. For better or for worse, the development of Ivory will play a big role in determining when and where Lake contributes.
The good news, however, is that for all of the concern inside, defensively end is easily the deepest position on the entire roster. The entire three-deep rotation at defensive end returns for 2012 and that does not include redshirt freshmen LaMichael Fanning and DJ Pettway. All things considered, it would take a major expansion in overall scholarship limits to even conceivably have more depth at one position than the Tide currently has at defensive end; its simply an embarrassment of riches. The only criticism that can be made is that the group may lack a true superstar player -- though a healthy Jesse Williams could certainly change that -- but the raw quality depth is simply without peer.
Despite this abundance, however, Nick Saban and company decided to invest in three more defensive ends in the 2012 recruiting class, with two significant signees being added on National Signing Day.
Dakota Ball committed very early in the process and didn't receive a great deal of billing as a result, but he had a strong offer list and he already features the rough size necessary to play the end position. Much of the same could be said of Korren Kirven, who too was heavily recruited despite suffering a broken leg late in his senior season. Dalvin Tomlinson, however, in time might be the best of the bunch. He needs to bulk up slightly in the weight room, but he has a solid frame and given his background as a standout prep wrestler, clearly he has the agility and a strong understanding of the importance of leverage. On a larger note, all three look to be quality additions who could be short-term contributors if the existing depth wasn't so strong, and by no means are any of them to be considered long-term developmental projects.
Given all of the aforementioned depth, though, it's highly unlikely that any of them see the field as true freshmen, and frankly it would likely take either a dominant showing this fall and / or a run of injuries for anyone to avoid the redshirt. Tomlinson and Kirven in particular would perhaps normally be candidates for early playing time, but as buried on the depth chart as they look to be, it makes little sense to waste a year of eligibility when they will see so few snaps.