Let’s get this out of the way right now. Quinnen Williams is gone. He will not be suiting up in crimson and white again until he comes back to Tuscaloosa for an alumni flag football game after a 15-year Hall of Fame NFL career. His departure to the Jets is on par with the hole created when All-American Jonathan Allen moved on to the Redskins after the 2016 season. Williams accounted for 7 sacks, 18.5 tackles for losses and 12 QB hurries - all huge numbers for an interior lineman.
Also gone is fellow defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs who tallied 9.5 sacks, 13.5 TFL, 6 QBH and forced a pair of fumbles.
Despite these losses, dark clouds are not amassing over Tuscaloosa. Recall that a year ago, the Crimson Tide was in a similar position after Daron Payne and Da’Shawn Hand left the team for the NFL. Of any position, defensive line is in the biggest need of a healthy dose of “next man up”.
The good news is that outside of Williams and Buggs, Alabama did not lose much else. Reserve Johnny Dwight has graduated but he had less tackles (3 solos, 3 assists) than WR Henry Ruggs (6-3) did in 2018.
Raekwon Davis probably could have turned pro but chose to come back for his senior year. He was disappointed with his junior campaign (24 solo, 31 asst, 1.5 sacks, 5.5 TFL.) and would like to get back to the form of his sophomore season in which he recorded 24 solo, 45 asst, 8.5 sacks, 10 TFL and a pick.
In 2017, LaBryan Ray was a 5-star prospect entering his first season at the Capstone. He added healthy contributions last year but as a junior it is time for him to live up to that billing. Last season his totals were 19 solo, 20 asst with 2.5 sacks including a big-time sack on Jake Fromm at the end of the memorable SEC Championship game. He has been nursing an ankle injury but should start Game 1 in Atlanta.
Redshirt sophomore Phidarian Mathis had been penciled in as the starter in the middle but pencils do have erasers. He may have been eclipsed by a newcomer.
Stephon Wynn is one of those who will be pushing for playing time. He missed much of 2018 fall camp due to injury and participated in only three games in his first season with the Crimson Tide. Now healthy, he should make his way into the regular rotation.
Fellow redshirt freshman Christian Barmore did not see action last season. He has stood out on the practice field and should see time at defensive end behind Ray, but only if he can keep the newbies at bay.
DL coach Brian Baker arrives in Tuscaloosa with an impressive résumé. After 19 seasons coaching in the NFL, he was hired by Dan Mullen to shore up the line in Starkville three seasons ago. All he did at MSU was transform Jeffery Simmons and Montez Sweat from troubled young men into the first round picks of the 2019 NFL Draft. He will have some excellent chess pieces to work with this fall in Tuscaloosa.
Nick Saban and company picked up what may be the finest groups of defensive linemen in one recruiting class ever. The lowest rated player is already vying for a starting role.
- DJ Dale 6-3 308 (Pinson, AL) - This under-the radar prospect is already wowing observers with his speed and power. Could be be a surprise starter at the nose?
- Byron Young 6-3 295 (Laurel, MS) - Young could be a sleeper hit a la Quinnen Williams. It will be interested to watch his development.
- Justin Eboigbe 6-5 294 (Forest Park, GA) - Eboigbe has been overlooked among this stable of studs. He could turn out to be the best of the group when all is said and done.
- Antonio Alfano 6-4 285 (Colonia, NJ) - The number 5 player in the nation may need a little time to acclimate, but he is immensely talented.
- Ishmael Sopsher 6-4 334 (Amite, LA) - Alabama is probably the best place for this former 5-star to land. If he buys in and does the work, Sopsher could turn into a special player.
- Braylen Ingraham 6-4 291 (Fort Lauderdale, FL) - Likely redshirt among a deep corps.
Tevita Musika was a late juco transfer a year ago but he has disappointed. There is no reason to think he will make any kind of impact in this his senior year.
PREDICTED DEPTH CHART
Dale (knee) and Ray (ankle) did not scrimmage this past weekend. This depth chart is based on everyone being healthy. Should either of these players not be able to go, Mathis could be the first man off the bench at either position.
DE - LaBryan Ray > Justin Eboigbe > Antonio Alfano
DT - DJ Dale > Phidarian Mathis > Stephon Wynn
DE - Raekwon Davis > Christian Barmore > Byron Young