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SUPERLATIVES: 2020 Alabama Football Report Card — Defensive Line

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A unit that improved as the season went along

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 11 CFP National Championship - Alabama v Ohio State Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Midseason Grade: C/C+
Final Grade: B

What we said at the midway point:

Dale’s spotty performances, Sopsher’s absence, Burrough’s injuries, and Barmore’s inconsistency have hurt this interior, especially against the ground game — and that was expected to to be a team strength.

But, I think we can all conclude that it is a defensive line that plays better when Justin Egboigbe, Labryan Ray and Phidarian Mathis are on the field, when Tim Smith and Byron Young are playing assignment football, and when Christian Barmore and D.J. Dale are bringing it every down...

...Despite those criticisms, it is a unit that is getting better in both effort and execution...they do adjust well at the half; so we know they can be coached. You can at least diagnose where the problems lie and how to correct them...which is not necessarily true at other positions.

I don’t think anyone would dispute that assessment. The first half of the season, the defensive line looked utterly lost at times, and especially in the running game. That was expected to be a team strength, and instead saw the Tide get absolutely gashed early.

Still, there were bright spots and you could see the direction that an improved unit would bring down the stretch. Tim Smith was very hard to keep off the field. He may not have always known where to go, but by god, he got there in a hurry. You just can’t coach intensity. And that was the problem with Sopsher, who could not keep his weight down or compete in practice, and as a result he was passed over on the depth for reasons that were entirely his own. Relatedly, Barmore’s effort in the first half of 2020 was quite inconsistent. He has a first round talent and skill set, but he was checked out far too often early in the season.

The diagnosis was solid, as well — get Mathis, Young, Egboigbe on the field; get Barmore going. Barmore did get going too: After just 4.5 TFL in his first 8 games, Barmore racked up 5 in his final five games, including three huge ones in the playoffs against OSU and Notre Dame’s elite offensive lines. In fact, he finished third on the team in TFL at the nose. And three of the Top 6 TFL producers were interior linemen. No one really foresaw Jamil Burroughs emergence either, but he turned it on late, and played in all six games down the stretch.

Poll

What underclass defensive lineman impressed you the most?

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    DJ Dale
    (34 votes)
  • 9%
    Byron Young
    (39 votes)
  • 11%
    Justin Egboigbe
    (45 votes)
  • 66%
    Tim Smith
    (261 votes)
  • 3%
    Jamil Burroughs
    (13 votes)
392 votes total Vote Now

While the edge did not get as much pressure as we’d like to see, that was offset somewhat by DJ Dale’s emergence on the inside, Phidarian Mathis’s strong season, Egboigbe’s improvements, Tim Smith’s introduction, and many other depth players stepping up. It really did look like this unit needed to gel and to have Christian Barmore play to his potential. They did both things.

After giving up a one-hundred yard rushing performance in four of their first five games, the Crimson Tide allowed just two down the stretch, and they held six of their final opponents to under 4.0 yards per attempt. In fact, in four of their final seven, ‘Bama held opponents to under three yards per tote.

The pass rushing also became beastly — 24 of Alabama’s 35 sacks came after the ‘Bye, including 8 total sacks in the SEC Championship Game and Playoffs. Barmore again led the way. Five of his team-leading 8.0 sacks came after the break, and he registered a sack in both playoff games.

As Barmore went, so too did the season. No. 58’s effort was A+ down the stretch, and with him playing assignment football, it made the entire group better. If this were just a half-season evaluation, I’d grade it out as an A, despite the lack of gaudy sack numbers. But, we must factor in those awful early season games to arrive at a total picture for the year.

But that still gives a solid B on the season.