Headed by intense leaders like A'Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed, Alabama led the nation in run defense (75.7 ypg) and sacks (52) last season, while being among the leaders in total defense (276.3 ypg) and scoring defense (15.1 ppg).
"The Process," which is Nick Saban's code for everything, always focuses on the present. It appreciates the past, yet it remains vigilant to build and fight for what's at stake at the time. Alabama loses four quality pieces from a star-studded defensive line, but the individuals that return are ones that have created much excitement for Crimson Tide fans in the coming season.
A'Shawn Robinson (DT,) Jarran Reed (DT) D.J. Pettway (DE,) Darren Lake (DT)
Robinson and Reed co-owned an Alabama defense in the last two years. Despite Reed having more tackles in 2014 and 2015 (54 and 57), Robinson ends his tenure with nine career sacks, 19 quarterback hurries and three blocked field goals. Georgia running back Nick Chubb was the lone player to total 100 yards rushing against the Crimson Tide a year ago. Both Reed and Robinson are projected to go in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft.
A character issue dismissed him from the program in 2012, but Pettway was key contributor in his return to Tuscaloosa in 2014. He saw action in the College Football Playoff twice, with last season's endeavor resulting in both victories in the Cotton Bowl and national title game. Pettway ended 2015 with 18 tackles, five tackles for loss and two sacks. He enters the NFL Draft as a day-three pick who could be taken between the fifth and sixth round.
Lake never got the opportunity to truly stand out, being lost in the shuffle of marquee names. He did, however, manage to collected 26 tackles in his career. Fifteen of his 26 stops came during his sophomore year in 2013. Lake will more than likely be an undrafted rookie free agent.
The New Ringleader
Jonathan Allen DE (SR)
Allen could have declared for the NFL Draft after a monster 2015 season; however, Allen decided to come back for a chance to win another national championship. In his 2015 campaign, Allen built off the success he gained in 2014 by totaling a team-high 14.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks.
Allen was named first-team All-SEC according to the conference coaches and Associated Press, with eleven of his 12 sacks coming against elite competition. The rising senior has been participating some in spring practice, regardless of wearing a black, non-contact jersey (shoulder). He has also put some weight in the offseason, going from 283 to 294 pounds, to make him a more imposing pass rusher.
The Seasoned Veteran
Dalvin Tomlinson DT (Sr.)
Tomlinson had a breakout season in 2015, leading all defensive linemen with six pass breakups. He chimed in with 34 total tackles and four quarterback hurries. Match-ups against Louisiana-Monroe and Charleston Southern saw Tomlinson shine. The 6-foot-3, 307- pound lineman had nine tackles combined in the two games at Bryant-Denny Stadium, earning him defensive player of the week honors from Alabama's coaching staff.
Tomlinson has been leading position drills with Allen under the watchful eye of coach Bo Davis. The senior accounts for 60 tackles, five tackles for loss, six quarterback hurries, six pass breakups and a sack for his career.
The Rising Stars
Da'Shawn Hand DE (Jr.,) Daron Payne DT (So.)
Both Hand and Payne displayed moments of dominance last season.
Hand, a rising junior, was exceptional in the College Football Playoff national title game against Clemson. He stayed in the backfield, racking up four total tackles with two coming for loss. The 6-foot-4, 278-pound defensive end finished 2015 with 16 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. Hand continues to challenge himself at spring practice, boasting a 335-pound power clean, a 445-pound bench press and a 600-pound squat. He was clocked at 4.80 seconds in the 40-yard dash, while tallying a 9'8" broad jump (tied for team-high) and a 34" vertical.
Payne, a rising sophomore, proved to everyone why he was a coveted five-star prospect a year ago. He was a force against Georgia, commanding a double-team on multiple occasions. Payne was credited with a tackle and a pass breakup against the Bulldogs. The Birmingham native had a field day against Dak Prescott and Mississippi State, amassing three tackles and a forced fumble. Alabama held the Bulldogs out of the end zone, ending Prescott's scoring streak. He recorded 13 tackles in 2015 and has brought energy into spring practice. Payne, who stands at 6-foot-2 and 319 pounds, is one of the strongest players on the team. His 365-pound power clean, 500-pound bench press and 600-pound squat are tied for best on the roster. His footwork is mind-boggling for a guy his size, running the 40-yard dash at 4.93 seconds.
Hand and Payne have been second in position drills, behind Allen and Tomlinson.
Fighting for Spots
Joshua Frazier DT, O.J. Smith DT
Frazier and Smith have not played much in their two seasons at Alabama. Frazier was one of the top interior line prospect in the nation, upon enrolling in 2014. He has seen action in 13 games off the bench; however, Frazier only has five tackles and a sack. Smith, a former four-star prospect, sustained a injury in 2014 that held him back from seeing field time. The 6-foot-2, 315-pound lineman played in one game last year against Louisiana- Monroe. Smith takes part in position drills with defensive lineman, but is on the scout team.
The Next Wave
Kendell Jones (DT,) Quinnen Williams (DT,) Raekwon Davis (DT,) Terrell Hall (DE,) Jamar King (DE)
Jones (6-foot-5, 375 pounds) has a lot of qualities that resemble former Alabama standout Terrence Cody, but he brings better footwork (and certainly better conditioning) to the table. A four-star defensive tackle, Jones participated in the Under Armour All-American and Nike's "The Opening" competition.
Four-star defensive tackles Quinnen Williams (6-foot-4, 265 pounds) and Raekwon Davis (6- foot-6, 327 pounds) jump off the page with their hands, instincts and playmaking abilities, but it will come down to which one is ready to contribute in the fall. Williams though not an early enrollee, has been observing a few practices from the sideline. This familiarity may give him an edge when Freshmen report in late July.
As for four-star Terrell Hall and three-star Jamar King, both have an opportunity to hit the ground running and get work done. King has more size (6-foot-5, 285 pounds) to be an effective defensive end. Both report with Freshmen in late summer.